EU court upholds Microsoft antitrust fine

June 27, 2012 12:05 pm

By Alex Barker in Brussels

Microsoft suffered another defeat at the hands of the European Commission, after failing to overturn a hefty fine in a court battle that is likely to draw the curtain on an antitrust feud lasting more than a decade.

While the EU’s second-highest court on Wednesday shaved 4 per cent from Microsoft’s €899m fine to €860, it threw out the US technology group’s main arguments to annul the first Brussels penalty levied on a company for non-compliance.

The decision is an important victory for Europe’s highest competition authority and bolsters its powers to impose painful financial penalties on companies that refuse to implement its antitrust decisions.

One of the biggest ever EU fines was levied on Microsoft in 2008 after the software group failed to comply with a Brussels order to share data with rivals on reasonable terms. Microsoft offered the data but at a price the commission found excessive.

Joaquin Almunia, the EU’s antitrust chief, said the judgment “fully vindicates the enforcement action that the commission took to ensure Microsoft’s compliance with its obligations”.

Microsoft said it was “disappointed with the court’s ruling” in spite of the fine being “slightly reduced”. The group, which fought a bitter and lengthy battle with the commission, did not say whether it would appeal.

The Luxembourg-based EU general court said it “essentially upholds the commission’s decision” but marginally reduced the fine after taking issue with part of the commission’s calculation.

While Microsoft once revelled in its reputation as antagonist-in-chief of the commission, its relations with Brussels have transformed in the years since its 2009 settlement.

In 2004 when Brussels initially imposed a record fine of €497m on Microsoft, the group’s software ran some 95 per cent of personal computers. Now the US group is a complainant seeking the help of the commission in clipping the wings of its high-flying rivals, such as Google.

Microsoft is the only company to have been fined for failing to obey a commission decision, making the appeal a test case of Brussels’ ability to police its decisions and punish noncompliance.

Michael Reynolds, a partner at Allen & Overy who advised one of the original complainants against Microsoft, said the court ruling “significantly reinforces the enforcement powers of the commission and vindicates the tough stance taken by Neelie Kroes [the then competition commissioner]”.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2012


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