Microsoft Challenging Landmark EU Ruling

BRUSSELS -- Microsoft Corp. says it will ask a European court this week to suspend parts of the European Commission's landmark decision that ordered it to stop business practices that violate antitrust law.

As part of an appeal against the EU executive's decision, Microsoft will ask the Court of First Instance to suspend requirements that it strip Media Player software from its Windows operating system and share information so rival makers of computer servers can more easily compete.

"We intend to file our appeal with the Court of First Instance next week and believe we have a very strong case to present," a Microsoft spokesman said late last week.

The commission issued a sweeping 302-page ruling against Microsoft on March 24, finding the company abused its dominance, and ordered that it change its business practices and pay a 497 million euro ($606.4 million) fine.

The commission gave Microsoft 90 days to separate its Windows Media Player, which plays music and videos over the Internet, from its Windows operating system.

It would be up to computer makers to decide whether to ship Windows with the Windows Media Player or that of a rival, such as RealNetworks Real Player.

The commission also gave Microsoft 120 days to license interconnection software to ease the way for rivals to hook up their servers to Windows as easily as Microsoft does.

The commission said Microsoft once provided the information to makers of network software -- which is used to print documents in offices and share files -- but pulled back when Microsoft began making its own competing products.

Microsoft said on the day the commission decision was announced it would seek to put remedies on ice until the case was decided, which could be years.

"We will ask the Court of First Instance to stay or suspend at least some of the sanctions that were announced," Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith said.

The deputy general counsel of Real Networks -- which stands to gain ground from the Commission ruling -- opposes any delay.

"Microsoft's attempt to delay the effectiveness of the commission's decision would simply enable it to continue its illegal conduct, harming competition and restricting the choices available to consumers," said Dave Stewart.

Bo Vesterdorf, president of the Luxembourg-based court, will decide on the suspensions, based in part on documents filed secretly by both sides.

Unlike the United States, court documents are closed to the public in the EU.

Vesterdorf may, as he has at times in the past, urge the parties to choose a fast track decision that would take less than a year.

The commission would have to voluntarily suspend its remedies and Microsoft would have to boil down the issues in its appeal to perhaps three central points.