Rivals Say Microsoft Flouts Deal
Firms Complain About Charges, Terms of Licensing Program
Jonathan Krim, June 13 2003
Microsoft Corp. is trying to license key pieces of its technology at
inflated rates and under onerous conditions, according to competitors
who charge that the software giant is thwarting its antitrust settlement
with the federal government.
The actions are discouraging rivals from participating in the licensing
program, which is an important element of the agreement that Microsoft
struck with the Justice Department and several states 18 months ago.
The software giant's major competitors were hoping the program would
allow their systems to better interact with Microsoft's * Windows
operating system, which resides on 95 percent of the world's personal
computers. But none of those top rivals has signed up, and so far only
four other companies are participating.
After federal courts found that Microsoft used a variety of illegal
tactics to squelch software competition in the mid-1990s, the Justice
Department negotiated the deal, that it said would restore competition
and prevent future anti-competitive conduct.
Among the terms: Companies must put up $100,000 just to see the
technical information about the 133 protocols, which helps a potential
licensee determine if it wants or needs any of them. But if the company
chooses not to license, it gets back only $50,000.
Officials from the rival companies argue that not only is this unfair,
but some of the protocols are already in the public domain -- a charge
Microsoft denies. Moreover, the rivals say, Microsoft is not providing
sufficient information about the protocols before a decision to license
must be made.
"Basically, I'd have to shoot the engineers when they came back," said
one irate company executive.
"Sadly, DOJ seems too intimidated by Microsoft to force them to do
anything the company finds inconvenient in the least," Pettit said.
"We have worked hard in developing an unprecedented program and
establishing reasonable rates," said spokesman Jim Desler. "But the
intellectual property in these protocols is the result [of] years of
research and billions of dollars invested in it. We believe the rates
are very reasonable."