Jul 27 ’10

Europe to Investigate Antitrust Complaints Over I.B.M. Mainframes

via nytimes.com

BERLIN — The European Commission opened investigations Monday into whether I.B.M. had abused its dominant position in mainframe computers, signaling that the era of aggressive prosecution of American technology leaders in Europe did not end with the Microsoft antitrust case.

The commission said that it would examine whether I.B.M. had shut out rival mainframe software vendors and service providers. The investigation could lead to charges and potential fines against the company.

Joaquín Almunia, who took over in February as the European competition commissioner, “is making it clear that the Internet and the information technology sector will be an enforcement priority for him and for the commission,” said Alec Burnside, a competition lawyer in Brussels at the law firm, Linklaters. “It is clear that he is building on the precedent left him by his predecessor.”

Mr. Almunia’s predecessor, Neelie Kroes, oversaw the conclusion of a 10-year investigation against Microsoft, which eventually required the world’s largest software maker to pay 1.2 billion euros, or nearly $1.8 billion, in fines and to change its business practices in Europe.

In a statement Monday, the commission, the executive arm of the European Union, said it would investigate whether I.B.M. had illegally tied sales of its mainframe operating system to its mainframe hardware, responding to complaints by third-party sellers of hardware. The commission also said it was opening a second, separate investigation on “its own initiative into I.B.M.’s alleged discriminatory behavior towards competing suppliers of mainframe maintenance services.”