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European antitrust probe questioned

Airbus questions an aspect of EC's ruling against Microsoft

European aircraft manufacturer Airbus SAS has taken issue with part of the European Commission's antitrust decision against Microsoft and has filed a petition with the court handling the software maker's appeal.

"Airbus is seeking a clarification of one of the points raised in the EC decision related to market regulation," a spokesperson for the company says. She emphasizes Airbus "is not taking sides in the case", saying it filed the petition because that is the appropriate procedure.

Although the spokesperson declines to elaborate on the petition, a report published in the online edition of The Wall Street Journal on Friday says Airbus fears that the EU ruling could affect the airline manufacturer's business. The firm reportedly worries the ruling could thwart its choice of providers for components such as seats and galleys.

The EC earlier this year found Microsoft guilty of improperly using its dominance in PC operating systems to boost its hand in other markets, notably media players, harming rivals such as RealNetworks. Microsoft is appealing the decision.

As part of the appeal process, interested third parties may intervene and question points of law, according to Anthony Woolich, an antitrust attorney with London-based Lawrence Graham LLP.
"It's very important to get support to show that it's not just the (appealing) party's personal commercial interest at stake, that there's a wider point of principal," Woolich says.

Microsoft's efforts to gain intervention from a variety of third parties is of little surprise given the magnitude of the case, Woolich adds. Microsoft approached Airbus rival Boeing and encouraged it to intervene with the European appeals court, the Journal reports.

Representatives for Microsoft in Europe were not immediately available to comment on the case.

In its antitrust ruling, the Commission ordered Microsoft to pay a €497 million fine and offer a European version of Windows, sans Media Player, within 90 days. Also, the court gave Microsoft 120 days to reveal enough Windows source code to enable rivals to build competing server software that works properly with Windows.

Microsoft filed its official appeal with the EU's Court of First Instance (CFI) in June. A spokesperson for the court declined to give any details of the Airbus petition on Friday.

Although the Commission's decision is specific to Microsoft, it creates case law that could have a wider-ranging effect on how companies in a variety of markets deal with competition.

"If Microsoft can gain support from third parties who say that customers are being adversely affected by the decision, that can be very, very compelling," Woolich says.

The EU decision came after what was widely considered as a slap on the wrist to Microsoft from US antitrust authorities. Woolich warned, however, that the EU's antitrust case is far from over. Appeals to the CFI often take one to two years, and its decisions can be appealed to the European Court of Justice, he says. Appeals to that court often take two to three years, he adds.

"Realistically, it could be five years before this case is settled and the technology would have moved on," Woolich says.


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