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Europe greases US probe of IBM mainframe biz

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The European Commission is assisting the US in ramming an antitrust probe into IBM's mainframe business - but it's only helping, mind you.

"We are in contact with the DoJ but it's not like there is some sort of joint investigation," an EC spokesman told Reuters Froday.

The US Department of Justice has begun an investigation of IBM's mainframe market tactics, with the giant accused of using its dominant market position to unfairly squeeze out any upstart competition. The investigation was initiated at the prompting of Washington DC-based lobby group, the Computer & Communication Industry Association.

Anti-competition complaints against IBM include withdrawing z/OS licenses from customers who use non-IBM hardware, punishing "disloyal" partners, and purchasing PSI, the mainframe startup that was leading international anti-trust charges against IBM.

European antitrust watchdogs have been watching the market, albeit informally, despite PSI dropping its EC antitrust complaint last July and accepting an undisclosed amount of money to join IBM. Another complaint by t3 Technologies this January has also not yet prompted a full investigation. But the EC is willing to hand off information to where the action is.

IBM, meanwhile, defended it innocence in a statement released Friday. "We continue to believe there is no merit to T3's claims, and that IBM is fully entitled to enforce our intellectual property rights and protect the investments we have made in our technologies," it said.

Last week, a US District Court judge dismissed T3's claims against IBM, saying the company's decision not to license its mainframe technology "does not constitute anticompetitive conduct."

Separately, IBM is urging US lawmakers to stop mucking about and pass patent reform legislation.

The company said it's backing the Patent Reform Act of 2009, which is currently sitting in the US Senate. The bill is designed to help defendants fight infringement allegations and limit damages - which appeals strongly to a major tech firm like IBM that is a frequent target of patent trolls (although it's certainly no stranger for suing over patents itself).

"Technology and the nature of innovation have changed dramatically over the last half-century, but our patent laws have not been significantly updated," stated Robert Weber, general counsel for IBM.

Big Blue said the current bill strikes a "careful balance" among the varied users of the US patent system. "The debate over patent reform has been both lengthy and constructive, but now it is time to act," stated Weber.

IBM is consistently each year awarded the most patents of any company in the US, by the US Patent and Trademark Office. ®

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