Microsoft back in court to appeal against EU antitrust fine

Free Software Foundation Europe sides with Commission against Microsoft

Microsoft was once again back in court on Tuesday to appeal an €899 million fine imposed by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in 2008 after a decade of legal battles.

The fine, a record high at the time, came after the software giant ignored the European Commission's ruling that it was abusing its dominant market position and ordered it to release server interoperability information that would allow workgroup server products to work with computers running its software.

The company had previously been fined €497 in 2004 for the antitrust abuse. The additional €899 million was for non-compliance. But Microsoft believes this fine was undeserved and launched an appeal.

Lawyers for Microsoft argued the information it had to provide was valuable and innovative, and originally sought to charge high prices for it. But Andrew Tridgell, creator of Samba, the only surviving competitor in the workgroup server market, disagreed.

"In order to compete, the Samba team only needed the mundane information about how Microsoft computers talk to each other," Tridgell said at Tuesday's hearing. "There is nothing innovative here. All the innovative bits are either already published by Microsoft's own researchers, or are contained in the Microsoft program source code -- and we have no interest in seeing that. "

"Protocols and interoperability information have no intrinsic value, but Microsoft kept them secret so it could squelch rivals in the workgroup server market," said Free Software Foundation Europe President Karsten Gerloff.

The group's legal counsel, Carlo Piana, also supported the Commission's position. "Microsoft didn't keep this information secret because it was valuable; the information was only valuable because it was kept secret. The company used these three years to further entrench its dominant position in the market."

"Microsoft is acting like a gambler who doubled up on a losing bet, and now wants his money back," added Nicholas Kahn, representing the European Commission.

Workgroup servers handle tasks used in small groups -- printing, signing in and allocating permission to access particular files.

The ECJ panel was headed by Chamber President Nicholas James Forwood of Britain, and also included judges Franklin Dehousse of Belgium and Juraj Schwarcz of Slovakia. A final ruling is expected in the second half of this year.

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