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Antitrust settlement over Big Blue's big iron nears

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Big Blue has almost settled its differences with the European Commission over the supply of mainframe spare parts to third-party maintainers.

The EC launched an antitrust probe into IBM on its own initiative, alleging that Big Blue was keeping potential competitors out of the maintenance services market for its System z servers by restricting or delaying access to parts that only IBM had.

IBM has now committed to "the expeditious availability of certain spare parts and technical information to third-party maintainers in the EEA, on reasonable and non-discriminatory terms and conditions over a period of five years", the commission said.

A Big Blue spokesperson said: "IBM welcomes the proposed resolution of the commission's investigation of certain IBM mainframe maintenance practices. IBM has put in place certain System z parts ordering procedures, and we look forward to that providing the basis for the final resolution."

The EC also took the opportunity to announce it had closed a related case against IBM, which alleged that IBM's mainframe hardware was tied to its operating system, after complaints from rival software vendors T3, TurboHercules and Neon Enterprise Software.

At the time, IBM said it would cooperate with the commission, while putting the whole case down to its conspiracy theory. A statement at the time read:

Certain IBM competitors, which have been unable to win in the marketplace through investments in fundamental innovations, now want regulators to create for them a market position that they have not earned. The accusations made against IBM by TurboHercules and T3 are being driven by some of IBM's largest competitors – led by Microsoft – who want to further cement the dominance of Wintel servers by attempting to mimic aspects of IBM mainframes without making the substantial investments IBM has made and continues to make. In doing so, they are violating IBM's intellectual property rights.

It wasn't surprising that the case is now closed, since all the complainants had since withdrawn their allegations.

The Big Blue spokesperson had only this to say on the second case: "IBM welcomes the European Commission's decision to close the investigation of IBM's mainframe and associated intellectual property rights." ®

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