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Microsoft called on the European Union’s top antitrust regulator to step back from the threat of further financial penalties, in a last-ditch intervention ahead of a ruling against the US software giant that is expected next week.
A draft of the European Commission ruling is due to be presented to competition watchdogs from the 25 EU member states today. According to several people close to the case, it will find Microsoft guilty of violating antitrust rules by ignoring the Commission’s landmark 2004 ruling against the group, which was accompanied by a record €497m ($635m) fine.
The Commission has now warned that it stands ready to fine Microsoft up to €2m for every day it has been in non-compliance, starting in mid-December last year.
But Brad Smith, Microsoft’s general counsel, insisted that it would be wrong to fine the group, saying the Commission had yet to review Microsoft’s latest compliance efforts. Under a workplan agreed with the Brussels-based regulator in April, Microsoft’s latest set of documents is not due to arrive until July 18, he stressed.
“I think that our view is that we have always been engaged in a sincere, strong and good-faith effort to comply with a decision that is neither precise nor concrete,” Mr Smith told the Financial Times.
“The second point is that we were given a workplan in April and the workplan calls for seven deadlines. We have met six of those deadlines already, and we are working around the clock to meet the last. We hope we will be given the opportunity to finish our homework before the Commission tries to grade it,” he added.
At the heart of the conflict is the Commission’s accusation that Microsoft has not drawn up “complete and accurate” information about its Windows operating system, which the March 2004 decision requires it to share with rival software developers. The group believes it did everything the ruling demands as long ago as December 2004, but both the Commission and Microsoft’s rivals dispute this.
In an effort to break the deadlock, Microsoft and the Commission’s technical adviser, Professor Neil Barrett, agreed in April on a seven-step workplan detailing what the group had to do and by when.
Named after stations on the London Underground, the seven packages have so far been delivered on time, Microsoft says. The bulk of new documentation has now been forwarded to Prof Barrett, leaving only the relatively minor “Paddington” section for later this month.
Mr Smith said: “We have pulled 300 of our top people from other projects . . . We are doing everything humanly possible to meet the deadlines in the highest quality way that we can.”