RealTime IT News

EC Brass to Skip Microsoft's Antitrust Hearing

With billions of dollars at stake, Microsoft announced late Thursday that it is canceling the oral hearing that the European Commission (EC) had scheduled June 3 to 5 for the company to present its response to antitrust charges.

The outcome of the case could cost Microsoft more than a billion dollars in fines and penalties and, should Microsoft lose, is likely to force Microsoft to bundle other browsers with copies of Windows sold in the European Union (EU).

A senior Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) lawyer said the reason for canceling the hearing was that, instead of attending the hearing in Brussels, senior EC competition officials will be in Zurich, perhaps ironically, for a meeting of the International Competition Network (ICN).

"As a result, it appears that many of the most influential Commission and national competition officials with the greatest interest in our case will be in Zurich and so unable to attend our hearing in Brussels," said a blog post by Dave Heiner, Microsoft deputy general counsel.

So why not reschedule?

"Unfortunately, the Commission has informed us that June 3-5 are the only dates that a suitable room is available in Brussels for a hearing," Heiner's post continued.

Microsoft already submitted its formal written response to the EC competition directorate back in April. The hearing was optional for Microsoft, and the company had requested it as an option.

Playing games?

Still, at least one analyst thinks enough is too much.

"They're [the EC] playing games [because] there's no question that, if they really wanted to provide the venue, they would do it," Tim Bajarin, president of Creative Strategies, told InternetNews.com.

"The whole way the EC is handling this is ridiculous," Bajarin said.

That may be, but it's serious business nonetheless.

The case began in late 2007, when Norwegian browser maker Opera complained that Microsoft's default bundling of IE with Windows unfairly damaged its efforts to build a substantial user base in the EU countries.

Next page: Internet Explorer case dates back to 1996