EU to rule on Microsoft's antitrust appeal Sept. 17

The original ruling came down more than three years ago

The European Union court considering Microsoft Corp's appeal of a 2004 antitrust ruling confirmed today that it will issue a verdict two months from today, on Sept. 17.

The Luxembourg-based Court of First Instance will present its ruling on what will be the last working day for Bo Vesterdorf, the court's president and the presiding judge in the Microsoft case.

"We look forward to receiving the court's judgment," said Guy Esnouf, a Microsoft spokesman, late Tuesday. Esnouf declined to speculate about the chance that the EU court will overturn the ruling.

Microsoft's legal wrangling with the EU began in the 1990s, and the original ruling was handed down in March 2004. The U.S. software developer was ordered to pay a $613 million fine, share several Windows protocols with competitors and craft versions of Windows XP that omitted some components, such as its Windows Music Player. Microsoft appealed that ruling in June 2004, although the Court didn't hear the appeal until almost two years later, in April 2006.

Three months after that, the Competition Commission -- the EU's antitrust watchdog agency -- added another $373 million in fines, saying Microsoft was dragging its feet in preparing the protocol documentation. In March, the agency, which is led by Neelie Kroes of the Netherlands, threatened new $4 million-per-day fines for what it called "unreasonable" licensing fees. In April, Microsoft said it had met the commission's deadline for responding to those charges.

Today, commission spokesman Jonathan Todd said that the agency is still looking into those charges. "We haven't reached a decision if the technical documentation made available is enough, or whether we're happy with the fees charged for licensing," Todd said during a briefing this morning. "We're still investigating."

Earlier this month, Kroes told Bloomberg News in an interview that her agency will decide if Microsoft has complied with its documentation and licensing demands only after the court's September decision.

Even though it filed an appeal, Microsoft has had to pay the original fine, release revamped versions of Windows XP and document protocols for server and client software competitors.

The September ruling -- scheduled to be issued at 9:30 a.m. local time, or 3:30 a.m. Eastern time in the U.S. -- would likely not be the last, since both Microsoft and the commission can appeal to the European Court of Justice, the EU's court of last resort.

"We just couldn't say what might happen after the 17th," said Microsoft's Esnouf. "Again, we look forward to receiving the judgment."

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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