It will be the tech Sector’s most closely watched court ruling since U.S. Federal Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson ordered the breakup of Microsoft Corp. in June, 2000. On or before Dec. 20, Judge Bo Vesterdorf, president of the European Union’s second-highest court, is expected to issue a decision in the long-running legal battle between Microsoft and the European Commission.
The Danish jurist must decide whether the remedies ordered by the EC in its landmark Mar. 24 antitrust decision against the U.S. software giant should go into effect immediately or be postponed, potentially for years, pending Microsoft’s appeal of the case.
At first glance this might seem like a mere turn of the screw in a protracted legal process. But Vesterdorf’s ruling will be the first time in the six-year history of Microsoft’s European antitrust misadventure that anybody outside the commission itself has passed judgment on the merits of the case. Under the stern guidance of then-competition czar Mario Monti, the commission ordered Microsoft to pay a $611 million fine, offer a version of Windows with its Media Player application stripped out, and disclose secret protocols used for communication among Windows servers and PCs.
If some or all of these demands are put on hold by Vesterdorf, the commission’s position could be badly weakened. “It would be crazy for them to go full steam ahead,” says Lars H. Liebeler, a partner at Washington-based law firm Thaler Liebeler and antitrust counsel to CompTIA, a pro-Microsoft industry group. If the commission backs off as a result, Microsoft could once again wriggle free of a seemingly damning legal setback — just as it did after Judge Jackson’s U.S. ruling was overturned, and Microsoft settled with the Justice Dept.