Nokia has quit the Computer and Communications Industry Association, a day after the group cut a deal with Microsoft. With one of its oldest and most tenacious antitrust opponents out of the way, Microsoft made an overnight public relations effort to try and bounce the EU competition commissioners to walk away from the Eurocrats' March decision to fine the company. But that appears to have been rebuffed - at least for now.
The CCIA, whose members include Verizon, Sun Microsystems, Oracle, AOL and Yahoo! had provided moral and practical support to the US Department of Justice and the EU for several years, offering expert legal briefs and commercial details. Until Monday, it was engaged in three related cases in Europe: two related to the appeal and one of its own, filed last year, concerning Windows XP.
Only last month, CCIA president Ed Black wrote, "Microsoft makes it perfectly clear that they will defend and continue to use their 95% Windows desktop monopoly to illegally eliminate competition in applications markets until ordered to stop because that is their business model."
Yesterday the organization called a halt, and in a press release entitled, "Agreement Resolves Past Conflicts and Lays Groundwork" the CCIA said it was burying the hatchet for an undisclosed sum.
"Life is a bitch," Black said in a statement. Actually, he didn't. What he said was, "Life is a constant reordering of priorities, and for important and pragmatic reasons we are choosing to move on with regard to this matter. Neither I, nor CCIA, can recant the many things we have said and filed relating to Microsoft. Although we know and value the important role we have played on this matter over the years, there are other current and emerging matters which demand our attention."
Over in Brussels, Microsoft is hoping to put the March remedies into cold storage for five years, which is how long it will take for the appeals process to work its way through the bureaucracy.
As part of the settlement with the CCIA, Microsoft joined the organization, although on its way in it will meet Nokia on its way out. The Finnish giant might have been more surprised than anything else, and said it had quit the CCIA today. "It was not handled in the proper way," a Nokia spokesperson told the International Herald Tribune.
Overnight, Redmond succeeded in portraying the Commission's obligation to carry out the provisions of the Treaty of Rome, which is why the competition commission exists, as a nuisance. "Brussels' long-running fight against Microsoft is becoming an increasingly lonely affair," wrote the FT. "Microsoft ... hailed the agreements as the culmination of its 18-month, multibillion-dollar campaign to settle antitrust conflicts with its major antagonists in the industry," said the New York Times on Tuesday. Microsoft's counsel Brad Smith was quoted as saying "there is clearly less need for the European Commission to persist with litigation on behalf of competition when virtually all of the competitors are saying their issues have been resolved to their satisfaction" (our emphasis added).
Commission spokesman Amelia Torres said that Monday's settlements don't erase Microsoft's historic record of anti-competitive practices and "do not alter the necessity for immediate implementation of the remedies in order to restore effective competition in the market."
So everyone's happy and the EC should give up, says Redmond. But the competitors who have settled have said that they have more to lose than to gain by continuing litigation - Ed Black said as much yesterday - and that isn't the same thing as saying the issues have gone away. The Burst and Real Networks cases are still alive, Novell says fresh litigation is imminent, and Nokia would appear to disagree pretty vigorously too.
So incoming competition commissioner Neelie Kroes gets a little roughed up before she assumes her responsibilities. But that might not have been necessary: the former Volvo director says she wants to bring Europe's antitrust regulation closer to the US approach - which is to do nothing at all. ®
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