Microsoft cancels anti-trust hearing in Europe

Microsoft has cancelled plans to hold a face-to-face hearing with European anti-trust authorities and rivals scheduled for the first week of June, claiming it wouldn’t get a fair audience because senior <a href=”” E.U. officials will be absent.

We believe that holding the hearing at a time when key officials are out of the country would deny Microsoft our effective right to be heard and hence deny our ‘rights of defense’ under European law,” said Dave Heiner, Microsoft’s vice president and deputy general counsel.

Microsoft requested an oral hearing last month when it submitted its formal written response to accusations by the European Commission, Europe’s top anti-trust authority, that it broke anti-trust laws by bundling its Internet Explorer (IE) Web browser in with the Windows operating system.

The Commission proposed June 3-5 for the hearing but Microsoft late Thursday said the dates clash with an annual competition law conference in Zurich, Germany, attended by the most senior Commission antitrust officials.

It asked for a different date but this request was denied, according to Microsoft.

The Commission wasn’t immediately available to comment.

The software giant’s excuse for cancelling is “ludicrous,” said Thomas Vinje, the legal representative of Opera, a rival browser maker whose complaint to the Commission in 2007 sparked the new antitrust case against Microsoft.

Top officials don’t show up to individual case hearings, Vinje said. “Such people simply don’t attend, and Microsoft knows it,” he said in an e-mail to IDG early Friday.

He concluded that Microsoft is “afraid of facing the questions and evidence” from the Commission and from those aligned against it, including not only Opera but also Mozilla, maker of Firefox and Microsoft’s nearest rival in the browser market in Europe; Google, maker of the Chrome browser; security software maker Symantec; and industry groups the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA), the European Committee for Interoperable Systems (ECIS), and the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE).

In January the Commission accused Microsoft of distorting fair competition in the market for Internet browsers by tying IE to Windows which, it argued, gives IE an advantage over rival browsers.

The case is similar to one focussed on IE in the U.S. launched under the final Bill Clinton administration, which was then dropped under the first administration of George W. Bush in favor of a broader anti-trust suit in which Microsoft was charged, and later found guilty of, illegally thwarting competition in order to extend its operating system monopoly.

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