The European Commission announced a new set of antitrust proceedings against Microsoft. The European Commission said that the company failed to live up to a agreement made three years ago to give users of Windows software better access to competitors’ Internet browser software. Microsoft immediately apologized, saying in a statement, “We deeply regret that this error occurred and we apologize for it,” and calling it a technical problem that the company had recently learned of.
Microsoft could face a substantial fine for defying the terms of a settlement and breaching the Europe Union’s antitrust rules. The fine could total up to 10% of a company’s global annual revenue. In Microsoft’s case, that could mean a penalty of $7 billion.
Joaquín Almunia, the European Commission official in charge of antitrust enforcement, said, “If the infringements are confirmed, there will be sanctions,” and he vowed to use “legal instruments with all my capacity to deter and to punish.” Mr. Almunia said that by not complying with commitments the company made in 2009 as part of the settlement, Microsoft committed a serious breach of E.U. antitrust rules.
The commission has been trying to find non-litigious solutions to antitrust problems in the fast-moving technology field to prevent cases from lasting for years. The sanctions against Microsoft could be particularly severe because this would be the first time a company had defied an antitrust settlement. The largest single fine ever levied by the European antitrust authorities was €1.1 billion, or $1.4 billion, in 2009 against Intel.
Nicolas Petit, a law professor at the University of Liège in Belgium, said that Mr. Almunia’s announcement “sounds like a warning to Google and to other technology giants in the commission’s line of fire,” and shows that “settling a case is not the end of the story” if the companies do not follow up with “effective monitoring mechanisms.” More than a year and a half went by before other companies in the sector reported the problem and the commission took action.