Microsoft - EUR 562 million fine for non-compliance with commitments

Within the last few months, the most significant case in antitrust law concerned Microsoft. The European Commission ("Commission") fined the software company EUR 561 million because of its failure to fulfill its obligation to provide its users the choice of a web browser through a selection screen. In 2009, the Commission had declared these commitments as legally binding until 2014. However, the Commission discovered that these commitments had not been adopted for 15 million users. Microsoft had delivered the software update Service Pack 1 for Windows without the selection screen for the free choice of a web browser between May 2011 and 7 July 2012. During the last nine years, a total of EUR 2.2 billion of fines have been imposed by the Commission against the software company.

In his recent speech Commissioner Joaquin Almunia referred to this case, and stressed how important it is that commitments for the protection of consumers and of free competition imposed by the Commission under Article 9 of Regulation 1/2003 must be followed and their compliance has to be monitored by the Commission consistently. Even if Microsoft's 2009 obligations have been followed consequently, the browser choice screen in Windows operating systems could not be selected for over a year for 15 million users. Whether intentional or not, this is this the first case in which commitments were not met and such violation had to be fined. When calculating the fine it was taken into consideration that Microsoft cooperated with the Commission after the case was detected, which facilitated the detection, clarification of the circumstances and completion of the investigation.

Commissioner Almunia also emphasized the effectiveness of the obligation to create a screen for selecting a browser, which has been imposed on Microsoft in 2009. Solely from March to November 2010 more than 84 million of these browser windows have been downloaded. Consequently, customers have an easily accessible and manageable choice of the offer, whereas providers are in competition which further drives the development of the browser. The Commissioner also reiterated the approval of commitments as a very effective method based on cooperation for the purpose of protecting competition.