RealTime IT News

Tech Companies Lobby Against Microsoft

UPDATED: A European group with backing from some large tech firms in the U.S. is looking to stymie Microsoft's efforts to appeal an anti-trust ruling through the European Union (EU) courts.

Members of the European Committee for Interoperable Standards (ECIS) have been in contact with EU officials over the past several months while it files an application for recognition as an entitled party with the European Court of First Instance (CFI), said Jonathan Todd, an EU spokesman.

The ECIS includes IBM , Oracle and Real Networks . While a Wall Street Journal report puts Nokia and Red Hat within the ranks of the organization, officials from the companies were not available to confirm at press time.

"The ECIS application demonstrates that a broad spectrum of the technology industry is concerned about the impact of Microsoft's illegal conduct on innovation in digital media and beyond," Dave Stewart, Real Networks deputy general counsel, said in a statement. "Real Networks supports the European Commission's efforts to require Microsoft to release a fully functioning unbundled operating system and to take all appropriate steps to ensure the effectiveness of its historic decision."

The lawyer representing the ECIS, Thomas Vinje, was not available for comment at press time, either.

Microsoft is in the process of appealing a European Commission (EC) decision handed down in March 2004. The company was fined $613 million and required to unbundle its Windows Media Player from its Windows operating system.

The Redmond, Wash., software giant filed two separate appeals with the Court of First Instance in Luxemburg; the first, an appeal to overturn the anti-trust ruling and the second an appeal to suspend the unbundling restrictions stipulated in the EC decision, which was struck down in December 2004.

Jim Desler, a Microsoft spokesman, said the ECIS' intentions doesn't change the company's appeals strategy, noting Microsoft has organizational allies of its own in the form of the Association for Competitive Technology (ACT) and Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA).

The effort by members of the ECIS is redundant, he said.

"Each one of these members of ECIS is already present in the case, either individually as in the case of Real Networks or as members of the Software Information Industry Association (SIIA), which is an intervener is this process as well," he said.

Todd said a CFI ruling on the appeal will take a couple of years. He also said that while the ECIS' help is welcome, it really isn't necessary for the EU to finish its case against Microsoft.

"The commission's enforcement of EU anti-trust rules does not depend on how many companies intervene on one side or the other," he said. "The commission has a clear mandate in the treaty, ratified by all the member states' parliament, to strictly enforce the anti-trust rules, so we do that irrespective of how many companies intervene on one side or the other."

IBM officials would not comment on the company's role in the Microsoft appeals process or the other members within ECIS. A statement by the company downplayed the organization's role in the court proceedings.

"IBM is involved with numerous organizations that promote open standards and interoperability, including [ECIS]," according to the statement. "ECIS has a wide-ranging agenda on behalf of greater [Information & Communications Technology (ICT)] interoperability, which is a goal that IBM supports because of the benefits that will accrue to all users of information and communications technology."

The ECIS' attempt to sway the European courts is the latest in U.S. corporate involvement in the EU process. In November 2004, Microsoft got Novell and the Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA) to drop their attacks on the company at the EC.

Sun Microsystems , the company that originally brought its complaints to the EC in 1998, settled with Microsoft for $1.95 billion in April 2004. <