Microsoft closer to EU agreement that could avert penalties

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Microsoft closer to EU agreement that could avert penalties

Brussels (Belgium) – A spokesperson for Microsoft this afternoon confirmed to TG Daily that the company’s chief general counsel, Brad Smith, has summarized the status of meetings between Microsoft and representatives of the European Commission as “constructive.” Besides leaving the door open for interpreting these meetings as ongoing, rather than concluding today as was originally expected, the spokesperson declined further comment, though indicated that a full report may be forthcoming.

Reporters awaiting comment outside the closed-door session late this evening, Brussels time, are quoting Smith as having emerged from the meeting as saying, “As I have said in the hearing, I believe we have had a breakthrough.” Several sources state that Dr. Neil Barrett, the independent monitoring trustee appointed by the EC, took part in the meeting; late today, Reuters verified that Dr. Barrett was indeed present – although earlier, there was some lack of clarity regarding whether he attended.

Dr. Barrett has apparently put forth a plan for enabling Microsoft to comply with the EC’s December 2005 directive to divulge information that could enable other companies, including competitors, to develop systems and software that is interoperable with Windows. Microsoft claims to have offered over 12,000 pages of documentation, plus free licenses to view key elements of Windows source code, along with unlimited free technical support for companies licensed to view this documentation and source code. Up to now, the EC’s commissioner for competition, Neelie Kroes, and her colleagues have dismissed Microsoft’s efforts as ineffective. A few weeks ago, Microsoft alleged in official documents to the EC that it may have improperly arranged meetings between key Microsoft rivals and Dr. Barrett; to this point, those allegations have never been completely denied.

But the AP quotes Microsoft’s Smith, emerging from tonight’s meeting and speaking very briefly with reporters, as praising a plan apparently put forth by Barrett, saying, “It finally gives us the kind of specificity and clarity that we need in order to work in a constructive way and to move all these issues forward.” Smith also further characterized the talks, the AP reports, as having included software engineers on both sides of the table – Dr. Barrett being one – which he also credited as leading to the apparent breakthrough.

Late today, Reuters quoted spokespersons for organizations representing Microsoft’s competitors as saying that the company offered nothing particularly new in its defense today; although since these representatives did not take part in this evening’s talks, it is not clear how they were made aware of this. The AP also cited statements as “responses” from Microsoft rivals, including the European Committee for Interoperable Systems, but failed to note that the statements were two days old.

Details of the Barrett plan are unknown, and a Microsoft spokesperson declined comment to TG Daily regarding whether Microsoft has agreed to support or follow any plan that may have been put forth. If Microsoft has indicated, or will at some point indicate, its willingness to follow a plan from the EC’s independent monitoring trustee, that plan would still have to be approved by the European Commission. However, the fact that threatened fines against Microsoft of up to €2 million per day have not been imposed by the EC, as many believed they could, indicating that the Commission may be willing to at least listen to a possible compromise plan. TG Daily will have more details as they become available.

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