[JURIST] Internet search company Google, Inc. [corporate website] will apply to join a European Commission (EC) [official website] antitrust proceeding against Microsoft [corporate website], accusing the software giant of hindering competition, according to a message from Google Vice President Sundar Pichai [text] posted to the company's official blog Tuesday. On January 17, the EC confirmed that it sent a Statement of Objections (SO) [EC press release] to Microsoft, preliminarily concluding that by tying its Internet Explorer web browser to the Windows operating system, Microsoft "provides Internet Explorer with an artificial distribution advantage which other web browsers are unable to match," thus undermining competition in violation of an EC Treaty provision on the abuse of a dominant position [Article 82 text]. Microsoft responded [press release] that it is committed to operating "in full compliance with European law" and indicated that it is "studying" the confidential SO. Pichai said that Google seeks to join the proceedings because
Google believes that the browser market is still largely uncompetitive, which holds back innovation for users. This is because Internet Explorer is tied to Microsoft's dominant computer operating system, giving it an unfair advantage over other browsers. Compare this to the mobile market, where Microsoft cannot tie Internet Explorer to a dominant operating system, and its browser therefore has a much lower usage. The value of competition for users (even in the limited form we see today) is clear: tabbed browsing, faster downloads, private browsing features, and more. Even greater competition will drive more innovation within browsers themselves – as well as in web design, enabling sites to load faster and offer new kinds of interactive tools and applications.
Finally, we believe that we can contribute to this debate. We learned a lot from launching our own Google Chrome browser last year and are hoping that Google's perspective will be useful as the European Commission evaluates remedies to improve the user experience and offer consumers real choices. Of course creating a remedy that helps solve one problem without creating other unintended consequences isn't easy – but the more voices there are in the conversation the greater the chances of success.
The SO allows Microsoft eight weeks to reply to the allegations in writing or to request an oral hearing. If the preliminary views of the SO are confirmed, the EC may require that Microsoft cease its infringement and may assess a fine.
The SO is based on legal principles confirmed in a 2004 European Commission action [JURIST report; EC materials] against Microsoft that directed the company to unbundle its media player from its Windows operating system. That landmark ruling required Microsoft to share technical information with competitors and lower its prices, but Microsoft failed to comply with the judgment and the EC assessed a record fine [press release; JURIST report] of 899 million euros ($1.3 billion). Last May, Microsoft filed an appeal [JURIST report] with the European Court of First Instance [official website], seeking to annul the fine. In response to the European decision and other judgments, Microsoft has instituted an Antitrust Compliance Committee [official website]. Last June, China announced an anti-monopoly investigation [JURIST report] of Microsoft for allegedly dominating the Chinese software market, unfairly raising prices, and bundling software.