Microsoft Hopes To Resume Talks With EU In Wake Of Court Ruling

The European Court of First Instance is expected to decide by Monday whether to stay pending appeal the EU's March order for Microsoft to change its business practices and pay a fine of 497 million euros ($666 million), lawyers said.

Considering that the full appeal could take years, the consequences of a suspension could be huge. If court President Bo Vesterdorf backs the EU, the U.S.-based software giant would be forced to divulge some of its long-cherished trade secrets to competitors and untie the digital Media Player from its Windows platform.

Microsoft will be carefully assessing the legal arguments Vesterdorf gives, trying to assess his thinking on the substance of the case.

"Microsoft is hopeful that the court order will provide an opening for further discussion on how to address the Commission's concerns," Horacio Gutierrez, the chief lawyer for Microsoft in Europe said on Thursday.

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A Microsoft official with personal knowledge of the case but speaking on condition of anonymity said the company wanted to avoid further litigation, which could take up to five more years.

The EU's antitrust office however, is far from ready to resume direct settlement negotiations.

"We are going to keep our options open," said an EU official close to the case, who asked not to be identified.

Vesterdorf could suspend part or all of the ruling, which the EU says punishes Microsoft for abusively wielding its Windows software monopoly and locking competitors out of the market.

The ruling will come a month after EU backers Novell and the Washington-based Computer and Communications Industry Association pulled out of the case following deals with Microsoft.

Microsoft has settled with four of the five major interveners in the EU's case, having previously spent 1.83 billion euros ($2.4 billion) settling claims by Time Warner and Sun Microsystems.

RealNetworks, maker of a rival to Microsoft's digital Media Player application, is Microsoft's last big opponent in the case.

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