EU Court Upholds Huge Microsoft Antitrust Fine

Windows developer gets a €39 million discount, has to pay “just” €860 million

A European court has backed a decision of the EU antitrust regulator made in 2008, which ordered Microsoft to pay €899 million (£719m) for anti-competitive practices.

However, the General Court of the European Union has reduced the amount slightly to €860 million (£688m). The huge fine was set in 2008, after the company had failed to implement changes ordered by the EU in 2004.

They never learn

Four years ago, the European Commission imposed a fine on Microsoft, after the software giant failed to conform to the antitrust guidelines set out four years earlier.

In accordance with the 2004 ruling, the Windows developer was fined a record €497 million (£381m) for abusing its dominant position in the market. It was also ordered to release interoperability information about its server products and stop bundling Windows Media Player with its operating systems.

Microsoft paid the fine in full, but had delayed conforming to the new guidelines. As a result, it was fined again in June 2006, for an additional €280.5 million (£225m).

In February 2008, the EU fined Microsoft once again, this time a mammoth €899 million – the largest penalty ever imposed in 50 years of EU competition policy, until 2009 and a €1.06 billion (£850m) Intel fine.

Microsoft’s lawyers have argued that the fine is disproportionate, but the court has rejected “all the arguments put forward by Microsoft in support of annulment”. It did, however, give the company a €39 million (£31m) discount.

“This case is about procedural infringements and about how far the European Commission can go in imposing fines,” Suzanne Rab, a partner at London law firm King & Spalding, told NASDAQ.

“The General Court essentially upholds the Commission’s decision imposing a periodic penalty payment on Microsoft for failing to allow its competitors access to interoperability information on reasonable terms,” the court said in a statement.

Microsoft complained to the same EU regulators when it filed an antitrust complaint against Google in March last year.

“The level of reduction in the fine imposed by the Commission is not particularly significant – this will be a disappointment to Microsoft,” commented Bruce Kilpatrick, head of the competition law team at Addleshaw Goddard. “The judgment is also a stark reminder of the powers available to the European Commission for non-compliance with its decisions.”

As Microsoft counts the cost of this “huge sum”, he added, “other technology companies currently embroiled in antitrust disputes, including Google, will be taking note.”

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