Microsoft will on Wednesday attack the antitrust case built against it by the European Commission, arguing that the case focuses unfairly on the company and disregards its intellectual property rights and consumers’ demands.
In a showpiece hearing, the company will seek to appeal beyond the staff of Mario Monti, competition commissioner, to other parts of the European Commission and national regulatory agencies in the hope they might rein back the Commission.
But it has emerged that Mr. Monti’s staff is following up a separate complaint into Microsoft’s Windows XP program could escalate the dispute with the software company. The Commission has sent out letters requiring further information about the complaint, lodged in February, which accused Microsoft of unfairly bundling other programs within Windows XP, which was launched in 2001.
At the closed-doors hearing, which will last until Friday, companies such as Sun Microsystems, Novell and Real Networks will back the Commission’s case. Mr. Monti’s staff wants Microsoft to share information with rivals to allow greater “interoperability” between desktop computers and the “server” programs that knit them together.
They also call for the company to “unbundle” its Media Player program from the rest of Windows - and have suggested a fine for what they regard as the company’s illegal leveraging of its Windows monopoly.
But Microsoft contends that the Commission’s case is the consequence of an artificially small market definition - namely, software for the “low end” servers that coordinate desktop computers, since the same software also works for bigger servers. The company will also seek to demonstrate that interoperability between PCs and other companies’ server programs is already sufficient - and that more information would allow other companies to “clone” Microsoft products.
But Microsoft’s rivals argue that they are being prevented from fair competition.
“We are talking about a system used for businesses, administrations, non-government organizations - we are talking about all organizations in a developed society,” said Ed Black, president of the Computer & Communications Industry Association, who will be appearing against Microsoft.
“The interoperability problems within enterprises are a consequence of the anticompetitive design of Microsoft’s programs.”
Microsoft will also argue that its integration of Media Player with the rest of Windows merely meets consumer demand for products with more features - and contributes to a lowering of prices and other benefits.
“If you pull out Media Player from Windows, then why not the browser or printer drivers or spell check?” asked Jonathan Zuck, president of the Association for Competitive Technology, a pro-Microsoft lobby group. But Mr. Black and other Microsoft opponents argue that the bundling practices eventually hobble the company’s rivals by forcing manufacturers to take Microsoft products as part of the Windows package.
The case, one of the biggest anti-trust cases for a generation, already involves almost all of Brussels’ leading law firms, and Microsoft has pursued a campaign of lobbying European Union governments.
The Commission hopes to reach a decision by about March next year - although the case is then likely to go to the courts. The investigation into Windows XP will also still be pending, as will a separate enquiry into Microsoft’s licensing practices.