The EU/Microsoft Agreement on Interoperability: Who Is the winner?
Paris, October 23, 2007 - Press Release
APRIL (French advocacy association devoted to promote and protect Free/Libre Software) urges caution when considering the European Commission's recent settlement with Microsoft, which would accept to comply with the requirements described in its 2004 conviction for monopolistic practices. An in-depth study of the specifics of the settlement (to date unavailable) is required to determine whether this announcement is not just a Pyrrhic victory for the Commission, for interoperability, and for free markets. In any event, the announcement seems to give a green light to the acceptance of software patents in Europe.
In the aftermath of Microsoft's conviction by European authorities,  the Commission announced that Redmond was taking 'concrete measures' to guarantee Microsoft competitors access to essential information for the sake of interoperability .
These measures are insufficient: APRIL is surprised that the specifics of the settlement have still not been made public. Only a careful study will be able to determine to what extent Microsoft is complying with the European Commission's requirements.
APRIL deplores the € 10,000 fee which will be imposed on all as it does not take into account the economic and business reality of the free software industry in particular and of the software industry in general, composed mostly of small to medium-sized businesses.
In addition, Microsoft continues to brandish its software patents. As we can observe in the United States, software patents serve only the interests of dominant firms, which use them as a weapon to stifle the innovative activities of their competitors. As neither the free nor the proprietary SMBs of the software sector have as many legal resources as their larger counterparts, they are the first victims of software patents. The very principle of software patents is thus condemnable. This is why APRIL opposes the decision of the Commission which, according to Neelie Kroes' , proposes a fixed payment by the industry for use of allegedly patented formats and protocols. According to APRIL president Benoit Sibaud, «This announcement politically legitimizes the European Patent Office's custom of issuing software patents in spite of European legislation.»
Last but not least, we know nothing of the durability of agreements such as these and nothing of the licensing and non-disclosure terms which may or may not be imposed in their frame . Any restriction on the choice and use of licenses, for instance one that would prohibit the distribution of modified, competing software to any third party (as the GPL allows it), or a non-disclosure clause would definitely ban free software.
«But beyond dealing with interoperability issues, we must put an end to Microsoft's anticompetitive practices. For instance,the sale of personal computers systematically bundled with one operating system is highly damaging to competitors and unjustly penalizes consumers - unbeknownst to them since the software prices are not displayed» explains Frederic Couchet, APRIL general delegate. Microsoft already owns 95 % of the consumer market and it is almost impossible to purchase a personal computer without a pre-installed copy of Windows. Ending this practice, which preempts any competition, will allow other players to join a market now flagrantly plagued by a lack of diversity. Moreover, it's an inescapable fact that having personal computers at a lower cost will enable consumers to gain access to better and cheaper equipment.
APRIL thus suggests that the European Commission be wary of the terms of interoperability Microsoft will impose on its competitors. The Commission must follow through with the reasoning which let it to condemn the bundled sale of Windows Media Player in order to eliminate the threat to competition which the bundled sale of software and new personal computers constitutes.
Last but not least, APRIL requests that the Commission fully enforce the sanctions which it has declared against Microsoft and which have been confirmed by the European Court of Justice, including the daily fines for non-compliance with its decision. It would be unacceptable that a firm that has over several years knowingly and repeatedly violated the free markets' laws get its financial sanctions eased and lowered.
 Neelie Kroes European Commissioner for Competition Policy Introductory remarks on Microsoft's compliance with March 2004 antitrust decision
« That percentage royalty has become a nominal, one-off payment of € 10 000. This is all that has to be paid by companies that dispute the validity or relevance of Microsoft's patents ».
About APRIL (http://www.april.org)
APRIL (the association for promotion and research in libre computing), made up of more than 1,600 members (individuals, companies, and organizations), is a free software pioneer in France. Since 1996, it has been a major player in the field of free software. Its aim: making free software more accessible to the general public, professionals, and institutions, and thus more widespread. It also acts as a watchdog for digital freedoms, warning the public about the dangers of private interests having stranglehold on information and knowledge.
Press contacts :
Benoît Sibaud, president, email@example.com +33 6 81 18 11 30
Frédéric Couchet, general delegate, firstname.lastname@example.org +33 6 60 68 89 31