U.S. Goes to Bat for Microsoft

By Caron Carlson  |  Posted 2004-04-05

While they take issue with European sanctions, the litany of pro-Microsoft Corp. statements from the Bush administration and a handful of members of Congress are aimed at this side of the Atlantic as much as they are the European Commission, antitrust experts say.

"Part of the rhetoric is directed at the D.C. Circuit [Court of Appeals]," said Andrew Gavil, law professor at Howard University, in Washington. "[Its] really making sure that the D.C. Circuit doesnt back away."

The rumblings from politicians have incited rumors of a trade war and diplomatic incidents. But the administration is obligated to speak out against Europes stringent antitrust stance, lest U.S. officials compromise their own, more lenient position, which is still under appeal, Gavil said.

The EC, the regulatory body of the European Union, last month gave the Redmond, Wash., software maker 90 days to unbundle Media Player from Windows and 120 days to disclose greater interface information so rival servers can interoperate with Microsoft products. Microsoft officials said they will appeal.

At the same time, Microsoft officials said they still hope to settle the European case, which could happen at any time, lawyers familiar with the case said. However, a stay could push the EC to negotiate in the hopes of expediting marketplace relief.

Reacting to Europes decision, the Department of Justice last week issued a critical statement that said, "Sound antitrust policy must avoid chilling innovation and competition even by dominant companies." Meanwhile, 10 members of the House Committee on International Relations wrote a letter to the commission criticizing the decision in similar terms.

In Brussels, Belgium, the political pressure from U.S. officials is seen as disconcerting but not surprising. Any attempt by the United States to retaliate in the trade arena over a difference of opinion on antitrust enforcement would be shortsighted, and EC Commissioner Mario Monti is not the kind "to rise to this type of gambit," a source said.

U.S. government officials siding with a U.S. company that was deemed a monopolist in the United States has rivals shaking their heads.

"It clearly represents that many in the U.S. government are only hearing one side of the story," said Greg Chiemingo, a RealNetworks Inc. spokesman in Seattle. Chiemingo attributed the problem to "the one-sided dialogue dominated by Microsoft."

Rocket Fuel