Intellectual Property Watch reports:
The open standards coalition invited Clifford Chance lawyer Thomas Vinje to Rio to give insights into a new antitrust case of the European Union against Microsoft. Vinje represented the European Committee on Interoperable Systems (ECIS) in the first antitrust case against Microsoft. Vinje told a press conference that the EU Competition Commissioner’s office, with the first case decided by the EU Court of First Instance, now has started working intensively on the second case.
The new case involves three main aspects. First, Microsoft allegedly barred providers of other text document formats access to information that would them allow to make their products fully compatible with computers running on Microsoft’s operating systems. “You may have experienced that sometimes open office documents can be received by Microsoft users, sometimes not.”
Second, for email and collaboration software Microsoft also may have privileged their own products like Outlook with regard to interfacing with Microsoft’s Exchange servers. The third, and according to Vinje, most relevant to the Internet and work done at the IGF, was the problem of growing .NET-dependency for web applications. .NET is Microsoft’s platform for web applications software development. “It is a sort of an effort to ‘proprietise’ the Internet,” said Vinje.
He saw this as “the same kind of behaviour” that had been judged anti-competitive in the first case by creating barriers for competing operating systems. But there was a difference between the two cases in two regards, he said. “First of all, the Commission now has more expertise and much better resources compared to when they started investigating Microsoft in 1993,” he said. “Secondly, they have a precedent, a court decision that confirmed the principles.”
Other national authorities, he proposed, could join the investigation or start their own as the competition authorities in South Korea have done already. “Competition authorities like company,” he said. And while he did not expect the US competition authorities to join in before the end of this term, a new government might change the situation. Governments also could for the moment just send their statements of concern to the EU competition commissioner.
Vinje said a slight effect on the case could result from the decision of the ISO [International Standards Organisation] standardisation process for Microsoft’s OOXML software currently under discussion.
The question is, how far can the EU Commission act when it comes down to the use of Microsoft patents? Microsoft's patent promise for OOXML leaves GPL software developers in the cold. The EU Commission's last deal with Microsoft appears to do the same. How far can competition authorities actually move when firms use patents, instead of other levers, to control a market?