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Brussels starts probe of MS consumer electronic deals

Hardware OEMs get "routine" request for information

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The European Commission looks set to open a second investigation of Microsoft, even before the current one is done and dusted - and this time it's about the company's relationships with OEMs. Following a report of the matter in the Financial Times, the Commission today issued a statement confirming that it had asked a number of companies for information concerning their licensing arrangements with Microsoft, but stressing that its enquiries were "routine."

According to the FT, 20 companies, including IBM, Hitachi and Toshiba, have been contacted, and the Commission is concerned that the terms of Microsoft's licences might restrict the hardware manufacturers' ability to enforce their own patents. And what might Brussels mean by this? Well, if you take a look here, you'll see that losing control of its own IP to Microsoft was precisely what concerned Sony when it filed its comments on the proposed DoJ settlement to the US antitrust matter.

We could at this juncture perhaps note the serendipity of the FT report's "Microsoft declined to comment. But the company has previously argued that its licensing policy worldwide has already been subjected to unprecedented scrutiny because of the court settlement to the antitrust case in the US."

One doubts that Sony was among the scrutineers who were entirely satisfied, and presumes that the Commission has included the company in its trawl.

The Commission hasn't said which companies it has contacted, but it's worth noting that it is assessing the conditions offered by Microsoft for the licensing of their IT related technology to original equipment manufacturers (OEM's) in the IT and consumer electronics sector." So while the current European antitrust investigation centres on the PC, this one, should it go ahead, will also focus on consumer markets, and the company's attempts to use software dominance to leverage its way into consumer hardware. ®

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