EU hands Microsoft antitrust setback

Microsoft suffered a setback in its antitrust battle with the European Commission, which on Wednesday refused to give the software group more time to prepare its defence against the latest charges filed by the Brussels regulator.

This means Microsoft must answer by next Wednesday allegations that it has failed to properly implement the Commission’s landmark 2004 antitrust ruling against the group. In particular, Microsoft is accused of failing to provide adequate technical documentation to its rivals that would allow them to develop server software that functions smoothly with Windows-run computers and servers.

The Commission also refused to grant Microsoft access to a batch of documents which the group believes may help it prepare its defence, but which Brussels insists is either internal or confidential. In particular, it refused to hand over the communications between the Commission’s investigators and a British computer scientist charged with giving technical advice to the regulator. His report had formed the backbone of the Commission’s latest allegations.

Horacio Gutierrez, Microsoft’s legal counsel for Europe, said in a statement: “Last week the Commission said it was premature for Microsoft to allege they are riding roughshod over our rights of defence. Today we are less than a week away from the deadline for filing our response and have been denied access to the complete file, so I suppose it is now official and they are indeed riding roughshod over our defence rights.”

He added: “The Commission can not unilaterally take away a fundamental right of defence.”

But a Commission spokesman insisted that the regulator’s hearing officer - the official charged with upholding companies’ rights of defence - had found that Microsoft’s rights had been properly safeguarded. “If the monitoring trustee’s report is factually wrong, Microsoft can prove that it is factually wrong without recourse to the Commission’s internal communications.”

Microsoft faces fines of up to €2m a day if the Commission rules that it has not complied with its 2004 ruling. The financial penalties would come on top of the record €497m fine the Commission imposed at the time.

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