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Apple cooperating at last on antitrust after MONTHS of wrangling – says court watchdog

Cook & co slowly warming to competition overseer

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Apple execs have made a "promising start" to fixing the company's antitrust compliance programme, says the monitor appointed by the court after the iPhone maker was found guilty of conspiring to fix ebook prices last year. However, the Cupertino corp has spent too much time dragging the process out, he said.

Scrutinizer Michael Bromwich – whom Apple has made numerous attempts to remove – has made his first report to a US district court on the state of anticompetitive practices at Apple. This comes after months of wrangling over whether the Manhattan court had any right to appoint Bromwich to the position in the first place.

Bromwich said he and his team had made some progress in improving the fruity firm's compliance programme, but they'd faced delays. The monitor chalked these up to time-consuming courtroom brawls with Apple as well as the company's unwillingness to provide employees for interviews.

"The monitoring team has experienced extended and unexpected delays in its efforts to evaluate Apple’s antitrust compliance policies, procedures, and training," Bromwich wrote.

"Regrettably, much of that was played out in court filings that mischaracterised our attempts to obtain basic information necessary to perform our responsibilities.

"Rather than conducting interviews, reviewing documents, and working with Apple to evaluate its Antitrust Compliance Program, we were required… to respond to challenges that sought to undermine our ability to do the job we were appointed to perform and to cease our activities while these challenges worked their way through the courts."

So far, the team has only managed to speak to a limited number of Apple workers, and most of them were lawyers, Bromwich added.

"Our unsuccessful attempts to speak with senior members of the company are of particular importance given this court’s findings regarding the involvement of senior personnel in the events underlying the e-books litigation and our need to evaluate the commitment of Apple’s leadership to an effective antitrust compliance programme," he said.

However, he did say that the team's relationship with the firm had improved in the last two months, after Apple designated a new in-house principal point of contact, and made changes to the outside legal team with whom he had been working.

"We have started to receive more information, we have seen a greater commitment to resolve lingering disputes, and we are starting to see the original pledges of cooperation and collaboration, which for many months were at odds with the company’s actions, fulfilled," he said.

Bromwich, who has previously worked as a monitor for Metropolitan Police in Washington DC, and an inspector general in the Department of Justice, was appointed as Apple's antitrust compliance monitor in October last year.

From the moment he got the job, Apple campaigned to get him out and/or abolish his role, claiming that he was going outside the terms of his position by looking for interviews with senior management and that he was overcharging the firm.

In February, the US Appeals Court rejected Apple's bid to put Bromwich's work on hold, but also highlighted the limits of the scope of his job to appease the fruity firm. Bromwich said that his relationship with the firm had started to improve from that time.

Apple is still fighting the original ruling that it conspired with top publishers including Hachette, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Penguin and Macmillan to fix the price of ebooks in a bid to break Amazon's quickly growing hold on the market.

The firm is also battling a consumer class action suit over price-fixing that is claiming over $840m in damages on behalf of customers in 33 states. That trial is due to start in July. ®

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