Microsoft appeals against €280m market abuse fine

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Microsoft yesterday stepped up its marathon legal battle with the European competition authorities, lodging a formal appeal against a €280.5m (£189m) fine imposed on it for failing to obey an earlier ruling.

The legal challenge is the latest step in an increasingly acrimonious clash which has become a test of the European Commission's determination to stand up to the US software giant.

The European Court of First Instance in Luxembourg yesterday received a faxed copy of the appeal from Microsoft and was waiting for the original to arrive. It has not yet given a date for a hearing or said whether the case would be handled separately from Microsoft's other legal challenges before the courts.

The appeal has its origins in a ruling from the European Commission in 2004 when it fined the American firm a record €497m for abusing its dominant position in the market. Microsoft appealed in that case, with a ruling expected by early 2007. Were the company to win, it would not need to continue with yesterday's challenge.

The latest court action disputes a Commission judgement that Microsoft did not comply with the 2004 order requiring it to make information available to rivals to allow them to make products compatible with itsWindows operating system. The Commission insisted that Microsoft had failed to make "complete and accurate technical specifications" available. The US firm argues that the regulator's orders were not clear enough. After an appeal and a lengthy wrangle, the fine of €280m was handed down in July this year.

Tom Brookes, a corporation spokesman, said: "Microsoft said in July that it would appeal ... The deadline was October. We have met the deadline and we remain fully committed to compliance with the Commission's 2004 decision."

Jonathan Todd, spokes-man for the European Commission, said "We are confident that the July 2006 decision to impose fines is well-founded from a legal standpoint".

Both sides claim to be defending the right to innovate in a fast-moving market. But European officials claim that Microsoft is deliberately seeking to tie up the Commission in litigation for years, making life as difficult as possible for the regulator.

"We can't break wind without them suing us," said one yesterday.