updated 5/25/2006 3:26:14 PM ET 2006-05-25T19:26:14

Microsoft’s chief executive announced expanded investments and projects in South Korea on Thursday, describing the country as a global high-tech leader even as the U.S. software company presses ahead with a legal challenge over an antitrust ruling.

Microsoft Corp. is investing a total of $60 million over three years to promote innovation in information technology, CEO Steve Ballmer said.

(MSNBC is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC.)

South Korea is “one of the two or three leading digital economies in the world,” Ballmer said in a speech to Seoul Digital Forum 2006, a three-day gathering of leading industry figures. “Microsoft is very committed to really helping enable growth in this market.”

Ballmer said the investment includes “innovation that’s designed to help over 60 Korean software companies thrive not only here in Korea but in export throughout the world.”

Under the plan, the company will invest $30 million to expand an innovation center to “incubate new products and technology for export,” Microsoft said in a news release.

That comes on top of $30 million already put into the project, Ballmer said at a press conference after the speech.

Microsoft also said it would collaborate with South Korea’s Ministry of Education in areas including curriculum development and teacher training. Microsoft said it also plans to expand technology education for senior citizens.

The expanded investment comes as Microsoft is embroiled in a dispute with the Korea Fair Trade Commission, which has fined the software giant $34 million, ruling it abused its dominant market position by tying certain software to its Windows operating system.

Under the ruling, Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft is required to provide two separate versions of Windows after Aug. 24. One must be stripped of Windows Media Player and Windows Messenger, and the other must carry links to Web pages that allow consumers to download competing versions of such software.

The commission on Monday rejected Microsoft’s appeal to reconsider the ruling. The company also has lodged a separate appeal with the Seoul High Court, where no decision has been reached.

Ballmer said Microsoft respects the nation’s legal system.

“It’ll work its way through that system,” he said.

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