-- EU's second-highest court slightly reduces fine
-- Microsoft 'disappointed' with EU General Court's ruling
-- Fine relates to opening up software access to rivals
(Adds Microsoft reaction)
By Vanessa Mock
LUXEMBOURG--Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) suffered a blow in its long-running battle with European Union regulators Wednesday, as Europe's second-highest court decided to only slightly reduce a 2008 European Commission decision to fine the company.
Judges reduced the fine to EUR860 million ($1.07 billion) from EUR899 million, but said they rejected all the arguments proposed by Microsoft. The software giant had appealed against a commission ruling that it should open up the software market to rivals.
Microsoft said it was disappointed.
"The fine… related to the price Microsoft had proposed for one of several forms of licenses for technology Microsoft was required to make available by the Commission's 2004 Decision. In 2009 Microsoft entered into a broad understanding with the Commission that resolved its competition law concerns," Robin Koch, Microsoft spokesman, said in an e-mailed statement.
The decision by the General Court of the EU is likely to come as a major relief for the commission as it seeks to pursue companies for failing to carry out its orders in anti-trust cases.
"This case is about procedural infringements and about how far the European Commission can go in imposing fines," said Suzanne Rab, a partner at King & Spalding, a London-based law firm.
Microsoft's lawyers had argued during a court hearing in May 2011 that the fine was undeserved and excessive.
It was unclear early Wednesday if Microsoft would appeal the decision and take the case to the EU's highest court.
The outcome will be seen as a litmus test by other companies that are embroiled in legal battles to reduce or overturn EU fines. Chip-maker Intel Corp. (INTC) is set to appear before the court in a hearing that starts on July 3 as it seeks to overturn a EUR1.06 billion penalty handed down by the commission in 2009. The fine is the highest ever by the EU on a single company.
"The outcome of the case is likely to be instructive for other companies challenging hefty antitrust fines before the EU courts," said Ms. Rab. "In the case of Intel, the issues raised are different from the Microsoft case, [but] both companies maintain that the fines imposed were excessive and disproportionate and therefore unlawful under EU law."
The commission is expected to react in its daily noon briefing.
--Write to Vanessa Mock at email@example.com