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Microsoft To Skip EC Hearing on Competitive Practices

Microsoft has cancelled a hearing on alleged competition violations that was scheduled to take place before European Commission (EC) officials in early June.

The issue stems from Microsoft's practice of bundling its Internet Explorer Web browser with its Windows operating system. In January, the EC issued a "statement of objections" on the matter, claiming that Microsoft used its Windows monopoly to unfairly compete against other browser-making companies in the European market.

A hearing was scheduled for June 3 to June 5, which would have given Microsoft an occasion to state its case before EC officials. However, Microsoft wanted the dates changed so that senior EC officials would be able to attend, explained Dave Heiner, Microsoft's vice president and deputy general counsel, in a blog post on Thursday.

"Unfortunately, the Commission has informed us that June 3-5 are the only dates that a suitable room is available in Brussels for a hearing," Heiner explained, adding that "the Commission has declined to reschedule the hearing." Microsoft then cancelled its participation.

The EC took up the case against Microsoft in response to a complaint filed by Opera Software, an Oslo, Norway-based browser maker, in 2007. Since that time, the Mozilla Foundation, Google and the European Committee for Interoperable Systems have joined the case, weighing in against Microsoft.

Microsoft got slapped with hefty fines in earlier competition trade disputes that have come before the EC. One case that Microsoft lost involved its practice of bundling Windows Media Player with Windows.

And Microsoft is not alone in getting punished by the European Union. Last week, Intel was fined $1.45 billion for unfair marketing practices that excluded its competitor, AMD, from European market share.

If the EC decides against Microsoft, the company may have to "detach" Internet Explorer from Windows or offer competing browsers with Windows, along with paying a fine.

Microsoft is a convicted monopolist based on a 2002 U.S. federal court final judgment, which also involved Internet Explorer's distribution. However, those U.S. legal details don't apply in the European Union.

Microsoft lately has faced renewed litigation troubles on the domestic front. In early April, Uniloc won a $388 million jury verdict against Microsoft in a patent infringement case. This week, Microsoft lost another patent dispute -- this time with Canadian company i4i Ltd. -- in which Microsoft faces a $200 million judgment over technology used in Microsoft Word.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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