Home Microsoft Loses Appeal of EU Antitrust Judgment From Another Era

Microsoft Loses Appeal of EU Antitrust Judgment From Another Era

Right on schedule, the European Union General Court rejected Microsoft’s appeal to dismiss $1.12 billion in fines for allegedly not complying with a 2004 antitrust order. The judgment, which leaves most of the fine print in place, is in some ways a relic of another time – one when Microsoft didn’t constantly see the market changing around it and was still the unquestioned dominant force in computing.

The verdict from the court rejected the software company’s appeal, though it did slightly reduce the level of fines by 4% to $1.07 billion (€860 million). “The General Court reduced the penalty payment marginally to take account of the fact that although Microsoft was obliged to make interoperability information available to third parties, the [EU Competition] Commission had allowed Microsoft to await the General Court’s judgment on the Commission’s 2004 Decision before allowing the actual distribution of interoperable products by open source developers,” the court said in a press release today.

The penalty, which could be appealed one more time by Microsoft, is a throwback from an earlier time when Microsoft dominated the enterprise and consumer markets. That Microsoft would still be feeling the repercussions of its actions eight years after the original fine – and 29 years after Novell first made the antitrust claims against the Windows operating system – is high irony, indeed.

The irony stems from the fact that three decades later, Microsoft is no longer as sure-footed within the various sectors in which Windows operates. While still dominant on the consumer desktop, very strong incursions from Linux in the server space have weakened Windows’ hold in that channel. And in new sectors – most notably mobile computing, cloud computing and big data – Microsoft is struggling just to be relevant compared to its competitors.

Making this even more painful is that this fine is this large because of Microsoft’s apparent stubbornness to comply with the EU Commission’s original orders for the software giant to share more information with competitors. The original 2004 fines of €778 million were more than doubled in 2008 when the EU Commission tacked on the additional €860 million fine. If Microsoft does appeal, and the appeal fails, that would mean Microsoft would have to lay out a total of $2.04 billion for this antitrust suit.

Microsoft complied with the original 2004 requirements laid out by the EU Commission in 2008 when the new penalty fine was issued, but that was after the fact.

For its part, the EU Competition Commission is pleased as punch with the court’s ruling.

“The judgment confirms that the imposition of such penalty payments remains an important tool at the Commission’s disposal,” Commission Vice President Joaquín Almunia said in a press statement. If this decision stands, look for more such fees from the EU Competition Commission.

Faced with an IT sector that’s shifting out from under the traditional desktop and server room models, it is not clear if Microsoft will appeal this ruling one more time. It’s a lot of money, even for the folks at Redmond, but the Microsoft of 2012, fighting to maintain a future top-level place within IT, may simply want to atone for the sins of the Microsoft of old and move on.

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