Microsoft Waives EU Hearing

President Bush waves as he arrives at the White House in Washington from Camp David, Md., Sunday, July, 22, 2007.
AP Photo
Microsoft Corp. said Wednesday it has waived its right to a hearing before European regulators, hoping to speed resolution of its antitrust woes in Europe.

At the same time, the European Commission said on Wednesday it expected to reach a conclusion next year in its antitrust probe of U.S. software giant.

The procedural move by Microsoft does not mean an automatic start to settlement talks with the European Commission, the EU's executive arm. But it could hurry the process along by skipping over what might have been a contentious faceoff, originally set for Dec. 20-21.

"Rather than focus our energies on an oral hearing, we'd rather put our energies on continuing our discussions with the Commission to resolve the issues of concern for them," Microsoft spokeswoman Tiffany Steckler said in Paris.

"When they would like to move into discussions with us, we're ready and available."

A spokeswoman for the Commission's antitrust office, Amelia Torres, declined to comment on whether the case would now move faster.

"If Microsoft doesn't want a hearing, we'll just continue with the investigation," she said.

She said the Commission was studying the reply sent by Microsoft to the Commission's allegations. "The Commission will then have to reach a conclusion which will probably be next year," she said.

Microsoft's desire to put the three-year EU investigation behind it follows two big settlement deals in the United States — one with the federal government and nine of the 18 states that sued the company, and another to resolve consumer class-action lawsuits.

EU Competition Commissioner Mario Monti has stressed that despite some areas of overlap, his investigation is separate from the U.S. concerns.

In its "statement of objections" last August, the EU charged that Microsoft may be violating antitrust laws by bundling its Media Player into its Windows operating system, giving it an unfair advantage over competing products that also play online music and video.

The EU also charged Microsoft was trying to extend its dominance into the market for servers, which tie desktop computers together, by illegally withholding key information rivals like Sun Microsystems need for their products to work well with Windows.

Some U.S. states have refused to join the settlement hammered out by the Bush administration partly over that same issue of "inter-operability," arguing Microsoft should be required to disclose more technical information to competitors.

The Microsoft spokeswoman said the company's written reply to the Commission, submitted Nov. 16, answered "in detail" the EU's concerns about interoperability, although she declined to elaborate.

Torres said the EU's merger task force is still reviewing Microsoft's response.

She also noted that although an oral hearing is "primarily" for the defendant, competitors who brought the initial complaint also have a right to be heard and may still request a hearing.

She declined t speculate on whether Microsoft could be forced to participate if one is requested by a competitor like Sun, saying that would be up to the EU official who runs the hearing.

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