Mario Monti, the EU’s Competition Commissioner, said Microsoft should stop bundling certain types of software into its Windows operating system which, installed on 95 per cent of personal computers, was a “near monopoly”. Microsoft was given 90 days to comply.
But the ruling triggered an angry response from across the Atlantic, where the US Senate majority leader Bill Frist denounced it as “preposterous”.
“I now fear that the US and the EU are heading toward a new trade war and that the commission’s ruling against Microsoft is the first shot,” Mr Frist, a Republican from Tennessee, said. The US Justice Department, meanwhile, described the fine as “unfortunate”, warning the sanctions could have “unintended consequences” on innovation.
Mr Monti said he had limited the fine in deference to regulators in the United States and other countries. The fine represents 8 per cent of Microsoft’s turnover in Europe, Africa and the Middle East, but is far short of the maximum the EU could have imposed. The ruling, Mr Monti added, would set a framework for resolving similar complaints already pending against Microsoft’s latest operating system, Windows XP.
The EU also said Microsoft must, within 120 days, start providing rivals with sufficient data to allow them to create computer products with full “interoperability” with Windows-based computers and servers.
Microsoft said it would appeal against the decision, which could keep the case bound up in legal wrangling for at least four years. A first move will be to ask the European Court of First Instance for a stay of the EU’s 90 and 120-day stipulations.
Nevertheless, lawyers for rivals claimed a significant victory over Microsoft yesterday. Michael Reynolds, the head of anti-trust at Allen & Overy, the lawyers for Sun Microsystems, the main complainant against Microsoft, said: “We will look at all the options. As the commissioner has said, all parties have rights in the member states of the EU. He said he was looking at the multiplier effect in terms of deterrents, not just of the fine, but also from private actions. There is a distinct possibility [Sun] may bring an action.”