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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 December, 2004, 13:01 GMT
Microsoft: No stranger to legal tussles
Microsoft
Lawyers love Microsoft
Given that Microsoft is far and away the biggest supplier of computer operating systems, it was inevitable the firm would come up against antitrust investigations.

With nine out of 10 personal computers worldwide said to run on its software, even Microsoft would have been surprised if authorities and smaller competitors did not push for one or two investigations.

Add the fact that Microsoft has faced fairly regular allegations of bullying its smaller rivals to protect its dominant position, and the number of legal cases it has faced have been substantial.

Cases that the software giant has strenuously contested and have dragged on and on.

Transparent Windows

The latest development has seen Microsoft lose an appeal against having to immediately comply with hard-hitting sanctions from the European Commission.

The Commission determined back in March that the company was guilty of abusing its dominant market position and hit it with a 497m euro ($613m; 331m) fine.

This however is mere pocket money for Microsoft, and what is of much more concern for the software giant was the Commission's decision that Microsoft must share some of its core software codes with rivals.

The Commission says this will make it much easier for Microsoft's rivals to produce both software and hardware applications that can run on its Windows operating system.

It has also called for Microsoft to produce a version of Windows that does not include its own MediaPlayer, so that rival music and video playing products can gain more of a foothold in the market place.

Microsoft is appealing against the Commission's judgement - a process that could take many more years - and wanted the application of the sanctions to be delayed until the end of its full appeal. Hence its separate - and now unsuccessful appeal - to delay the immediate enforcement of the sanctions.

It is now likely that Microsoft will appeal against the sanctions to the European Court of Justice - the highest court in Europe - and again argue that it should not have to comply with the sanctions until the end of its full appeal against their validity.

Tokyo raids

In a totally separate case, Microsoft is also facing ongoing investigations in Japan. Back in March, officials from Japan's fair trade watchdog raided its Tokyo offices.

The Japanese officials alleged that the software giant imposed unfair and restrictive conditions in its software deals with Japanese computer firms.

They say Microsoft insisted that if companies - such as NEC, Hitachi and Sony - want to pre-install its Windows software on their computers, they must first sign away their right to sue the US giant, even if they find it has stolen their intellectual property.

Landmark US cases

The first of the big probes against Microsoft was brought by the US government in 1990, when the Federal Trade Commission launched an investigation into possible collusion between the Seattle giant and IBM in the PC market.

This and other matters continued until Microsoft settled in 1994.

The next big case against the software giant began in 1997 when the US authorities accused Microsoft of anti-trust law violations by packaging its own web browser - Internet Explorer - with its Windows software to see off the "Navigator" of rival Netscape.

The 'Browser Wars' case rumbled on for five years until it was finally settled by a US Federal court in 2002.

At one point the software giant had faced a potential break up into two firms, but it successfully appealed and obtained lighter sanctions.

Microsoft was ultimately ordered to release some technical data to make it easier for software rivals to write programmes that work in a Windows environment.

That however was far from the end of Microsoft's tussle with authorities in the US.

Beating Sun

While the US Justice Department and the majority of the 20 individual states that had supported the Federal action were happy with the result, others such as the state of Massachusetts, were not.

And so the authorities in Boston announced in July 2003 that they were investigating whether Microsoft had violated the anti-trust settlement.

The ongoing Massachusetts probe centres on whether Microsoft retaliated against a computer maker for promoting the rival operating system Linux.

In addition to challenges from US authorities, Microsoft has also faced legal action from other American firms.

In May 2003, for example, it settled an anti-trust lawsuit brought by America Online, which by then owned Netscape. Microsoft agreed to pay $750m (454m) and in return struck a seven-year licensing agreement with AOL.

In another case, one month later, Microsoft won its appeal in case brought by software rival Sun Microsystems.

Sun had tried to force Microsoft to incorporate Sun's Java software - which enables programs to run on all types of computers - into Windows.




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