IBM reaches mainframe antitrust deal with EU

The company will give rival mainframe maintenance companies swift access to spare parts and technical information, or face large fines, after European regulators accepted its proposals to settle an investigation

European regulators have accepted IBM's promises to work better with mainframe support rivals, putting an end to the EU's antitrust investigation into the company.

European Commission

IBM has promised the European Commission it will work better with mainframe support rivals, ending an antitrust investigation into the company.

On Wednesday, the European Commission said IBM will now make spare parts and technical information "swiftly available" to independent maintainers of IBM's System z mainframes, under reasonable and non-discriminatory terms. These commitments are legally binding, it noted.

The investigation focused on whether IBM was setting unfair conditions for providing supplies to maintenance competitors. IBM's proposals should remedy the situation, the regulators said.

"I am pleased that we could find a swift solution with IBM to our competition concerns. Timely interventions are crucial in fast-moving technology markets," competition commissioner Joaquín Almunia said in a statement.

The Commission opened its antitrust investigation into IBM in mid-2010, saying it was concerned the technology giant was unfairly hindering the ability of service rivals to compete against it.

A second investigation, launched at the same time, looked into complaints by rivals T3, Turbo Hercules and Neon that IBM was abusing its dominant position in the mainframe market. However, the Commission said in September that it was dropping that case, after the three companies withdrew their complaints.

Also in September, IBM made the proposals that led to this week's case closure. The Commission said its decision to wrap up the investigation followed some revision of IBM's proposed commitments, but did not say what had been revised.

That information will be included in a full, non-confidential version of Wednesday's decision, which a Commission spokeswoman told ZDNet UK will hopefully come out sometime later in December.

While IBM had proposed making spare parts and technical information quickly available to competitors over a five-year period, no time limitation was mentioned in the Commission's statement this week.

"If IBM were to breach its commitments, the Commission could impose a fine of up to 10 percent of IBM's total turnover without having to prove a violation of EU competition rules," the Commission noted in its statement.

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