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Wednesday, November 24, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
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Unexpected meeting called in EU case over Microsoft

By PAUL GEITNER
The Associated Press

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BRUSSELS, Belgium — The judge deciding whether to suspend the European Union's antitrust order against Microsoft pending appeal has called an unexpected meeting, two weeks after two longtime backers of the EU's case abruptly pulled out.

Judge Bo Vesterdorf, president of the European Court of First Instance in Luxembourg, called a closed-door session for tomorrow to discuss "procedural matters," the court said yesterday. Court officials declined to elaborate.

A person familiar with the matter, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the judge apparently wanted to "figure out what the significance is" of the Nov. 8 defection from the EU side of Microsoft rival Novell and the Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA), a trade group in Washington, D.C.

Microsoft paid Novell $536 million and an undisclosed smaller amount to the CCIA to resolve their disagreements and pull out of the EU case.

Both supported the European Commission in its investigation, which ended in March with a decision ordering far-reaching changes in Microsoft's business practices as well as a fine of $646 million.

Spokesman Jim Desler emphasized that tomorrow's session is a procedural meeting, not a hearing. "It's purely a question of EU procedural rules. Once a party withdraws, what happens to their prior statements."

He said the company does not intend to ask Vesterdorf to exclude previous statements in the case by Novell and CCIA.

Vesterdorf is expected to rule within weeks on Microsoft's request to suspend the EU antitrust order, pending its appeal of the decision.

The EU has insisted the defections would not affect its defense of its decision.

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

The last big opponent, Seattle-based RealNetworks, maker of a rival to Microsoft's digital Media Player application, denied yesterday that it and the EU were becoming isolated.
 
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David Stewart, a senior lawyer with RealNetworks, told Dow Jones Newswires that it and other companies "remain resolved to support the decision and protect consumers."

In announcing its settlement, Novell said the agreement resolved its claims involving the Netware operating system for connecting computers across networks, which competes with Microsoft's dominant Windows software.

Novell said then it would go ahead with an antitrust lawsuit in the United States against Microsoft over damage a decade ago to its once-popular WordPerfect business software.

The CCIA, which has fought Microsoft vigorously on legal fronts for more than a decade, did not disclose the size of its payment, but said Microsoft would spend $65,000 to become a member. Ed Black, the group's head, declined to comment yesterday.

Desler's comments were reported by The Seattle Times' technology reporter Brier Dudley.

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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