Tuesday, September 18, 2007

A looming EU-US trade war?

After reading online yesterday about Microsoft’s big loss at the hands of EU competition authorities, I thought I had the full picture. But an article in the dead tree version of the WSJ added a few points.

First, real lawyers (not just journalists and pundits) believe that EU Competition Commissioner Neeli Kroes is going to use the Microsoft win as a precedent to go after other dominant US firms — Intel, Qualcomm, Rambus and Google. Others worry about the precedent. European lawyers see as this as promoting a policy split between the EU and the U.S., while the US Chamber notes that the move will embolden other countries to move against American firms.

Action by other governments to hurt American companies could spark trade friction, assuming any US politicians care (or want to seize an issue for cheap political points). The Journal quoted Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.) as calling this a “new form of protectionism,” but Wexler’s website makes no mention of this — only his campaign against Rush Limbaugh.

Two other tidbits on the case: with penalties, the €0.5 billion fine has become €2 billion. And while Microsoft appears to be have been stalling, it has already licensed competitors access to its server technology (the heart of the case). The catch is that those licenses have been paid licenses — which obviously wouldn’t help open source developers — but the EU wants that information available for free. Perhaps the EU could rebate two days worth of penalties (€6 million) to cover a fully paid license for the whole world.

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