Microsoft's Google Antitrust Filing Latest in Long-Running Feud

Microsoft's Google antitrust filing with the European Commission is just another round in the long-running, multifront battle with the search engine giant.

Microsoft this week filed an antitrust complaint against arch-rival Google with the European Commission, a regulatory body that's hit Redmond executives with monopoly investigations in the past.

"There of course will be some who will point out the irony in today's filing," Brad Smith, Microsoft's senior vice president and general counsel, wrote in a March 30 statement posted on the Microsoft on the Issues blog. "Having spent more than a decade wearing the shoe on the other foot with the European Commission, the filing of a formal antitrust complaint is not something we take lightly."

Possible ironies aside, Microsoft is apparently intent on showing Google as the 800-pound gorilla currently tossing its competitors around the marketplace like so many rag dolls. "We're concerned by a broadening pattern of conduct aimed at stopping anyone else from creating a competitive alternative," Smith wrote. "We've therefore decided to join a large and growing number of companies registering their concerns about the European search market."

His posting also argued that Google restricts other search engines from property cataloging YouTube videos in search results, that it prevents those YouTube videos from running well on Windows Phones, that it blocks access to book publishers' content, that it restricts advertisers' access to their own data.

In addition, Smith accused Google of contractually blocking "leading Websites in Europe from distributing competing search boxes" and discriminating against competitors by raising the price for prominent placement in Google advertisements.

As earlier alluded, the European Commission, in the not-so-distant past, pursued Microsoft over supposed anti-competitive practices related to Internet Explorer. Pressured by the body, Microsoft eventually released a "Web browser choice screen" designed to give Windows users in the European Union a selection of browsers other than IE.

Discussions between the European Commission and Microsoft became so long-winded, in fact, that CEO Steve Ballmer reportedly met with the body's outgoing competition commissioner, Neelie Kroes, in an attempt to settle remaining issues before she stepped down from office at the end of 2009.

"We're not surprised that Microsoft has done this, since one of their subsidiaries was one of the original complainants," a Google spokesperson wrote in a March 31 e-mail to eWEEK. "For our part, we continue to discuss the case with the European Commission and we're happy to explain to anyone how our business works."

By "one of their subsidiaries," the spokesperson is referring to Ciao! from Bing, an online-community portal aimed at a handful of Western European markets. Back in February 2010, the European Commission notified Google that Ciao, along with U.K. price-comparison Website Foundem and French legal search engine, had filed complaints about Google's effect on European search-engine competition. Foundem is a member of ICOMP, a lobbying group sponsored by Microsoft.

From a broader perspective, Microsoft's newest antitrust filing suggests that its competition with Google, while already fierce, can raise itself to another level. Already, Microsoft has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into its Bing search engine, on top of partnering with Yahoo to power its backend search, in order to hack away at Google's overriding market presence. Microsoft is trying something similar with its recently-launched Windows Phone 7 platform, which it hopes will someday prove a viable competitor to both Apple's iPhone and the growing family of Google Android devices.

Legal maneuvers are another front in that broad-based competition. Microsoft has already taken legal swipes at companies whose Android-based products allegedly violate its patents, most recently Barnes & Noble. An antitrust filing? Just another arrow in the proverbial quiver.