Judge Hubert Legal, who is hearing Microsoft's appeal of a European Union antitrust decision, said there's no sign of a settlement in the...
Judge Hubert Legal, who is hearing Microsoft’s appeal of a European Union antitrust decision, said there’s no sign of a settlement in the case.
“We haven’t received any indication” the EU will withdraw the case or that Microsoft will drop its appeal, Legal, 50, a judge at the European Court of First Instance, said in an interview in Luxembourg last week.
In March, the world’s largest software maker was fined 497 million euros ($612 million when Microsoft paid it last year) and was forced to produce a version of its Windows operating system without a music and video player and to license information to rivals.
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Bo Vesterdorf, president of the Court of First Instance, in December rejected Microsoft’s request to delay the antitrust order pending an appeal.
Microsoft said as recently as last week that it wants to reach an accord with the European Commission, the EU’s Brussels- based regulator. Talks between Chief Executive Steve Ballmer and the commission broke off less than a week before the EU’s ruling March 24. Regulators cut off negotiations after the company failed to agree that the ruling on the video and audio player would act as a precedent for future investigations.
“We believe that a negotiated settlement is much better to address the complex issues at stake,” said Dirk Delmartino, a Microsoft spokesman. “Today’s priority is to comply with the commission decision.”
Neelie Kroes, the EU competition commissioner, said Feb. 7 that she will adopt a “hard-line” stance with Microsoft. Her predecessor, Mario Monti, said Oct. 6 that the time for a settlement had passed and “it’s now for the courts to decide.”
“There is no reason, in light of the court president’s decision in December, for a settlement,” commission spokesman Jonathan Todd said in an interview.
Legal said he wants the hearing to take place before the end of the year, possibly in either October or November.
“We’ll try to do it in the shortest time possible,” he said. “How that will be will depend, among other things, on the parties.”
In the next few weeks, the court will decide which companies and trade associations can submit written arguments and speak at the hearing. About 10 requests have been received, Legal said, declining to provide specifics.
In November, Microsoft agreed to pay $536 million to end an antitrust dispute with Novell and made peace with the trade group Computer & Communications Industry Association. Novell and the association agreed to withdraw their support for the commission. RealNetworks, which argued Microsoft quashes competition by including its media player with Windows, hasn’t settled.
Legal said Microsoft’s settlement of an antitrust suit in the U.S. in 2001 “formed the background” when Vesterdorf considered whether to suspend the commission’s measures.
“Doubts were expressed about the possible effects countermeasures could have,” he said. “The same goes for a settlement.”
U.S. lawmakers such as Senate Republican Leader Bill Frist criticized the EU decision as undermining the U.S. accord. Still, U.S. Justice Department lawyer Renata Hess said in a hearing Feb. 9 that the 2001 settlement hasn’t reduced the dominance of Windows, which still powers about 95 percent of the world’s personal computers.
Legal said it’s legally possible to split EU court rulings into two parts, meaning judges could uphold one of the commission’s measures and reject another.
“If a decision has several elements and if it contains an obligation to take two separate counter measures, it’s legally and theoretically possible to contemplate a partial annulment,” he said. “The commission’s decision has clearly two separate elements. Whether the two are separable or not is of the essence of the case and I cannot comment on that.”