Official hints that Japan will investigate Microsoft too

Comments made late last week by an official at Japan's Fair Trade Commission (FTC) suggesting that the antitrust body intends to investigate Microsoft's business practices - in the wake of the legal action taken by the US Department of Justice - have been downplayed by spokesmen from both parties. 'Microsoft has not been notified of any investigation,' a spokesman at Microsoft Japan said. 'If we are contacted we will cooperate fully.'

Comments made late last week by an official at Japan's Fair Trade Commission (FTC) suggesting that the antitrust body intends to investigate Microsoft's business practices - in the wake of the legal action taken by the US Department of Justice - have been heavily downplayed by spokesmen from both parties.

"Microsoft has not been notified of any investigation," a spokesman at Microsoft Japan said. "If we are contacted we will cooperate fully," he added.

Both officials and spokesmen at Japan's FTC confirmed that no notice of an investigation had been delivered to the software vendor, because no investigation has been launched, they said. However, they added that the commission has "taken notice" of the U.S. action and is considering whether or not to investigate the software company in Japan.

On Monday the US Justice Department asked a federal court to hold Microsoft in contempt for violating a 1995 court order barring it from engaging in anticompetitive practices.

Citing Microsoft's requirement that PC manufacturers license and distribute the company's Web browser, Internet Explorer, as a condition of licensing Windows 95, the department is seeking a fine of US$1 million per day against the software vendor.

The European Commission, meanwhile, is investigating Microsoft on a range of issues including its licensing practices in Europe.

But in Japan, contrary to press reports today, FTA officials were vague on how they would react to the US action and flatly denied that an investigation had been launched. In circuitous language the officials left open the possibility of an antitrust probe into Microsoft, but would not be drawn on specifics.

"We're not saying that we will investigate, but we may not investigate," one official said. "We may investigate but it hasn't been decided."

The confusion over the Japanese government's position follows a comment yesterday by FTC Secretary General Jotaro Yabe at a weekly meeting with reporters, according to an FTC spokesman. When asked about the U.S. government's ruling, Yabe replied that he thought - even in Japan- Microsoft would have to be investigated for antitrust violations, according to reports.

Responding to questions, an FTC spokesman said the commission had not received complaints about Microsoft's practices from Japanese PC vendors. He could not comment on whether the FTC is consulting the U.S. government on the matter.

Japan PC market leader NEC. meanwhile is waiting for specifics on any potential action: "It's very difficult to comment at this time. We have to see how things go," an NEC spokesman said.

Documents filed by the US. Department of Justice last week revealed that Microsoft had threatened to terminate Compaq Computer's Windows 95 license if the hardware vendor didn't install Internet Explorer on its PCs.

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