Cleary and CC seal antitrust victory with Microsoft climb-down

Clifford Chance, led by Brussels partner Thomas Vinje, advised lead complainant Opera Software, web browser provider the Mozilla Foundation and industry coalition the European Committee for Interoperable Systems (ECIS).

Cleary was co-counsel to ECIS and represented a number of interested parties. The firm’s antitrust team included Brussels partners Maurits Dolmans and Thomas Graf and associates David Little and Georgina Eclair-Heath.

Howrey and Sullivan & Cromwell acted for Microsoft, with Brussels managing partner Trevor Soames leading the Howrey team, assisted by Brussels partners Damien Geradin, Götz Drauz and Lars Kjølby. New York partner Steve Holley led for Sullivan & Cromwell.

The complaints against Microsoft were centred on the company’s practise of tying its own Internet Explorer browser to Windows packages, which parties claimed stifled competition and the development of web browser technology.   

Graf said: “This tie-up’s been going on for 15 years. Back then Netscape was the most popular browser, but that went out of business after Microsoft started tying its two products. And when Netscape dropped out, Microsoft stopped development of its browsers.

“A group of independent analysts unanimously agreed that almost all other web browsers were better than Internet Explorer, but Microsoft still had a 60 per cent market share, which showed a fundamental distortion.”

As a result of the investigation, Microsoft has promised to issue a ballot screen to users who buy Windows, giving them a choice of 12 browsers, from which they can pick one to download.

The initial complaint concerning the web browser tie-up was made by Opera Software in December 2007.

Alber & Geiger associate Martin Gerig, who represented US browser Flock, said: “I’m very satisfied with the Commission’s reaction. It’ll provide an enormous amount of protection of competition and innovation. An excellent outcome.”