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Microsoft asks for public antitrust hearing

Wants its day in court

Microsoft said yesterday that it has asked for a public hearing to present arguments that it is complying with the European Commission's 2004 antitrust ruling. The Commission, however, has so far denied the request.

In a statement Microsoft said that it wanted the planned two-day hearing, at which the company can present its arguments on compliance, to be open. While it was normally the Commission’s policy to hold such hearings in private, Microsoft said that the hearing should be conducted in an "open forum".

Such sessions are normally private to protect the party under investigation but, the statement said, Microsoft was prepared to "waive its right" to a confidential hearing to ensure a "full and fair examination of the issues of the case".

The Commission has up to now denied the company's request for an open hearing, Microsoft said. The company added that it remains committed to meeting any and all demands set by the Commission but was "steadfast" in its request for "full access to the evidence against us, and the opportunity to respond to the Commission's allegations in an open hearing".

A Commission spokesman confirmed that it did not want to have a public hearing.

"The Commission regulation on procedures in antitrust cases is very explicit. It says oral hearings should not be held in public," said Jonathan Todd, spokesman for the Commission's competition commissioner, Neelie Kroes. He added that the point of the hearing was to guarantee "due process" and allow participants to speak freely without betraying "business secrets".

The hearing is scheduled for 30 and 31 March. Presentations from Microsoft, the Commission and interested third parties (including complainants against the company such as IBM, Sun Microsystems and the Free Software Foundation) will be heard by the hearing officer, Karen Williams.

After the hearing, the Commission will decide whether Microsoft is complying with an order that requires it to provide sufficient documentation to allow rival programmers to develop products that can interoperate with its workgroup server software.

Microsoft argues that it has already exceeded the Commission's demands, including offering to grant access to server source code.

If the Commission decides the company is not complying with its ruling, it can levy a daily fine of up to €2m (about £1.37m) a day on Microsoft.

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