30 October 2003 The European Commission (EC) is to investigate Microsoft’s licensing policies, because it believes the policies may restrict competition.
The concern is that the Microsoft licence deals restrict hardware vendors, including IBM, Hitachi and Toshiba, from successfully enforcing their own software patents. This, the Commission, believes stifles software development from the hardware vendors, due to the restrictive tie-ins Microsoft demands.
The Commission has contacted 20 vendors, inquiring about their licence arrangements with Microsoft. “We confirm that a series of letters were sent to equipment manufacturers in which we requested information on agreements they have entered into with Microsoft,” the Commission said in a statement.
It added: “We do this because companies have expressed concern about their licensing conditions. But we have not reached any conclusions yet. We have not contacted Microsoft now because we are still at the preliminary fact-finding stage.”
The move could lead to greater un-bundling of Microsoft packages within the European market.
Microsoft and the EC have a history of head-on clashes. The Commission expects Microsoft to share more server information and is currently pursuing an antitrust case regarding the server market. In addition, the Commission is calling on Microsoft to un-bundle its Windows Media Player application from the Windows operating system (OS).
Microsoft has, as yet, made no comment, but is expected to rely on the antitrust settlements it has already made in the US as a defence. It has also reportedly been lobbying the US government to apply pressure on the EC to wind-down its antitrust investigations against the company.