Microsoft requests guidance on protocol pricing in EU row

Microsoft has asked the European Commission how much it should charge for technical information about its Windows operating system, in an attempt to defuse the latest crisis between the regulator and the software giant.

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Microsoft has asked the European Commission how much it should charge for technical information about its Windows operating system, in an attempt to defuse the latest crisis between the regulator and the software giant.

The “protocol” information would allow rival makers of workgroup servers to build products that work properly with PCs running Windows. Microsoft has created an extensive licensing plan, the Workgroup Server Protocol Programme, setting out different licences depending on how manufacturers would use the protocols.

But the company and the commission have been at loggerheads over how much Microsoft will charge for the information. Leaked documents have revealed that the commission intended to force Microsoft to share the information for almost no compensation.

Last month, the commission attacked the company for continuing to gain market share using tactics barred by the commission in its 2004 anti-trust ruling. European competition commissioner Neelie Kroes branded Microsoft’s stance "unacceptable".

Microsoft was ordered to disclose the protocol information as part of that ruling, but the software giant and the commission have been at odds over how that information has been documented as well as pricing.

The company's senior vice president and senior counsel, Brad Smith, said the company would not request an oral hearing on the pricing issue, one of its rights.

"We need greater clarity on what prices the commission wants us to charge, and we believe that is more likely to come from a constructive conversation than from a formal hearing," Smith said.

The commission has stressed that the protocols should be offered "on reasonable and non-discriminatory terms". It contends there is not enough innovation in the 1,500 pages of documents Microsoft has submitted since December 2005 to justify the prices it wants to charge.

Microsoft could face fines of up to £2m a day if the commission is not satisfied. In July 2006, the Commission fined Microsoft €280.5 million for failing to provide the interoperability information. In the 2004 antitrust ruling, Microsoft was fined €497 million.

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