EU slaps Microsoft with $350 million fine

Stephen Beard Jul 12, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: Microsoft fought the U.S. government for years over anti-trust claims. Lost, eventually. But the company’s still fighting over in Europe. Fighting too hard, the European Union says. The E.U slapped the sofware maker with a huge fine today. More than 350 million dollars. For ignoring *its ruling the company is a monopoly. Add today’s hit to earlier fines…and Microsoft’s total amount due to the Europeans is almost a billion dollars. From the Marketplace European Desk in London Stephen Beard reports:

STEPHEN BEARD: Today Microsoft made history. But not in the way it would have liked. The world’s leading software company became the first to be punished for defying Europe’s Competition Commissioner.

JOHNATHON TODD: It’s the first time we have ever fined a company for failure to respect a previous Commission anti-trust decision.

The Commission’s Johnathon Todd says that Microsoft has not complied fully with an order now two years old. The EU told Microsoft to divulge technical specifications to competitors so they could better develop products compatible with Windows. Microsoft has witheld important data, says Todd. It’s breaking the law.

TODD: If a company does business in Europe, it must abide by European law, including the competition rules. If a company breaks those rules, then it has to pay the price.

And quite a price. Today’S $350 million fine comes on top of an earlier fine of $630 million. The European approach is much tougher than that of the US regulator — the Justice Department — which also ruled against Microsoft but hasn’t yet punished the company. Politics plays more of a role in the US, says Tobias Buck of the Financial Times:

TOBIAS BUCK: When a business-friendly administration such as the current one comes in, you see a marked drop in the way that big companies are pursued. Whereas in Europe, the regulator is completely independent and has a long history of going after big companies.

Microsoft says it is making huge efforts to comply with the EU’s ruling. But if it doesn’t do so by the end of July, the Commission says, the company will be fined a further $3 million every day until it does.

In London, this is Stephen Beard for Marketplace.

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