Microsoft exec confirms Redmond's involvement in antitrust inquiries about Google and search

Unsurprisingly, Microsoft and Google have taken their growing tit-for-tat rivalry to the courts. Yet again. In the latest round, Microsoft execs are confirming they've been talking to antitrust regulators in recent months about Google's dominant position in search and advertising.

Unsurprisingly, Microsoft and Google have taken their growing tit-for-tat rivalry to the courts. Yet again.

In the latest round, Microsoft execs are confirming they've been talking to antitrust regulators in recent months about Google's dominant position in search and advertising and don't dispute claims that Microsoft also may have helped encourage other search companies to come forward and register complaints with the European Union (EU).

Google execs pointed fingers at Microsoft earlier last week when three companies (two of which have explicit Microsoft ties) said they had been talking to EU officials about alleged Google behaviors that disadvantage the search leader's competitors. In a blog post on February 26, Microsoft Vice President and Deputy General Counsel David Heiner basically confirmed Microsoft's not-so-behind-the-scenes involvement, reminding readers that Google and its execs have used the antitrust courts the same way. From that post:

"Complaints in competition law cases usually come from competitors. (Believe me, I know: I’ve been chief competition counsel at Microsoft since 1994, so I’ve seen plenty of competitor complaints. Novell, when current Google CEO Eric Schmidt was at the helm, was never hesitant about complaining to regulators about Microsoft.Google hasn’t been shy about raising antitrust concerns about Microsoft in the last few years, either.) This is the way that competition law agencies function: They look to competitors in the first instance to understand how particular markets operate, the practices of dominant firms and the competitive significance of those practices."

Microsoft officials have spoken with EU, U.S. Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission officials about Google's competitive practices during those bodies' examination of the Microsoft-Yahoo search partnership -- which got the regulatory nod from the European Commission and the DOJ earlier this month, Heiner confirmed in his post.

As Microsoft officials know well, it's not illegal to have a monopoly on a market; it's illegal to abuse that monopoly power. Heiner noted that distinction in the conclusion to his post:

"Microsoft would obviously be among the first to say that leading firms should not be punished for their success. Nor should firms be punished just because a particular business practice may harm a rival—competition on the merits can do that, too. That is a position that Microsoft has long espoused, and we’re sticking to it. Our concerns relate only to Google practices that tend to lock in business partners and content (like Google Books) and exclude competitors, thereby undermining competition more broadly."

If the current investigation over Google's supposed practices turns into an complaint/lawsuit, expect a long, protracted and expensive battle. And expect more Google retaliation against Microsoft on another front as payback ....

Update: Worth a read: A good backgrounder on Microsoft vs. Google in the February 28 issue of the Wall Street Journal. A couple of folks who were prominent a decade ago (Rick Rule and Gary Reback) are back as part of the latest antitrust slug fests.

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