The European Union's top antitrust regulator is poised to issue a formal ruling that finds Microsoft guilty of breaking EU competition rules. The ruling is likely to be accompanied by fines for the U.S. software group of up to $2.5 million a day.
The move came as Warren Buffett, chairman of Berkshire Hathaway and the world's second-richest person, announced he would give the bulk of his fortune to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
According to several people familiar with the EU case, the European Commission's antitrust directorate has drafted a ruling stating that Microsoft has failed properly to implement the EU's antitrust decision of March 2004. Brussels, which has been battling with the group for almost seven years, believes this constitutes a fresh violation by Microsoft. (MSNBC.com is a Microsoft-NBC Universal joint venture.)
The draft ruling will be presented next Monday to national competition authorities, which must be consulted before every important decision by the regulator. Neelie Kroes, the EU competition commissioner, intends to deliver the ruling on July 12, people familiar with the case said.
A spokesman for Ms. Kroes refused to comment on Monday, saying no formal decision had been reached. Although Ms. Kroes will need the backing of her fellow commissioners for a formal ruling and a fine against Microsoft, it is rare for draft decisions to be overturned at this stage.
Action against Microsoft would represent the first time the Commission has punished a company for failing to comply with one of its rulings.
At the heart of the conflict is the Commission's allegation that Microsoft has failed to provide rival software companies with "complete and accurate" information about its Windows operating system — an order that formed a crucial part of its 2004 ruling.
Horacio Gutierrez, Microsoft's senior lawyer in Europe, said the company was still working hard to meet the Commission's compliance concerns. "Any fine would be unjustified and unnecessary," he said.