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Fresh Europe antitrust complaint aims at WinXP leveraging

CCIA issues 'all of the above' document

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The Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA), a serial Microsoft antagonist, has filed a fresh complaint with the European Commission, claiming that Microsoft has perpetrated "new and widespread violations of European competition law," and asking the Commission to intervene to "restore competition to the markets that Microsoft now dominates and to prevent future harm to these and other markets."

The complaint appears to be a conscious effort by the CCIA to move the terms of the antitrust arguments on from the territory covered - somewhat unsuccessfully, depending on your point of view - in US versus Microsoft, and to a lesser extent in the current European Microsoft investigation. The US action focused on specific historical areas where Microsoft was eventually deemed to have acted anticompetitively. But by the time this happened all the kings horses and all the kings men couldn't put Netscape together again, and the case had very little to say about monopolies new, using new mechanisms. At the request of the States Judge CKK did consider a widening of the case, but then declined it.

The European investigation is certainly a little more forward-looking in that it covers Media Player and the danger of a Microsoft monopoly in the European server market, but it's still narrow in the sense that it's looking at specific areas.

Which is where the new complaint comes in: "Microsoft's abusive behaviour designed into or accompanying Windows XP serves both to protect its superdominant position for desktop operating systems and its related superdominant positions for PPAs [new one on us - they mean Office] and browsers, as well as to leverage those superdominant positions into markets where it has not yet achieved such dominance."

Indeed. And the CCIA proceeds with a short list of examples - media player software, email clients, instant messaging, server software, authentication software, multimedia content management (inc DRM), consumer portals and internet advertising, handheld device software, smart phone software, and software for non PC devices, inc games consoles and set-top boxes.

Microsoft can use its products, XP at the moment being the prime example, to leverage itself into dominant positions in these markets, and any other new market it happens to think of. So:

"The forms of Microsoft's abusive conduct are often closely interrelated, and their market foreclosure effects in many instances reinforce each other. The effectiveness of Microsoft's anti-competitive behaviours in preserving Microsoft's existing desktop dominance and in leveraging that dominance into related markets can only truly be understood if these behaviours and their exclusionary impact are viewed as a whole, rather than examined in isolation from each other."

This is a pretty obvious point, but its one the US legal system has not been able to address; nor, indeed, has anybody made a serious attempt to do so, and any such attempt would surely fail. The European system however is considerably more flexible, and the Commission has a considerable amount of latitude (or quasi-dictatorial powers, if you'd prefer to put it like that) in the way it can handle such matters. So, having bounced off on the other side of the pond, starting again in Brussels seems a shrewd move for the CCIA. It stands a pretty good chance of getting a hearing.

You can get access to a summary of the complaint and supporting documentation here, where you may note with some horror (as did we) that the CCIA now reckons the current European verdict, 'imminent' since Methuselah was a lad, is now due this summer. And it might be right... ®

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