Microsoft opened a new front in its European Union antitrust battle by asking an EU court to protect its trade secrets from disclosure. Microsoft asked the European Court...

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Microsoft opened a new front in its European Union antitrust battle by asking an EU court to protect its trade secrets from disclosure.

Microsoft asked the European Court of First Instance in Luxembourg to rule on whether regulators can force the company to let developers of free software such as the Linux operating system publicly disclose how its Windows product shares files and printers over networks. The suit was filed at the EU’s second-highest tribunal on Aug. 10 but only became public yesterday.

The Redmond-based company, which was ordered by the EU in March 2004 to help competitors by licensing the so-called network protocols, agreed to sell information to suppliers of free software. Still, it won’t allow the data to be distributed under a license that gives free access to the source code, or the underlying instructions for the software.

Microsoft said in a statement that it contests the release of “broad licenses in source-code form of communication protocols, which are based on Microsoft’s intellectual property.”

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“We’re taking this step so the court can begin review of this issue now, given its far-reaching implications for the protection of our intellectual property rights around the world,” it said.

EU regulators in March 2004 ruled Microsoft illegally abuses the dominance of its software, which powers more than 90 percent of the world’s personal computers, and ordered the company to license proprietary information to competitors, including developers of open-source products.

The European Commission, the EU’s executive branch, insists that free-software developers be allowed to use their open licensing for the protocols. Network communications information isn’t innovative enough for protection, the regulator said.

Jonathan Todd, a commission spokesman, said yesterday that the commission still is considering Microsoft’s compliance with the antitrust order regarding licenses for protocols to its competitors.

The latest case will be joined to the company’s appeal of regulators’ March 2004 antitrust order. A hearing is expected in the next six months.