Microsoft has given up its nine-year fight against antitrust regulators in Europe, saying Monday that it would not challenge a court judgment from last month and would share technical information with rivals on terms the software giant had long resisted.
European regulators and some software groups in Europe hailed the deal as a breakthrough that should open the door to freer competition, especially in the market for the server software that powers corporate data centers and the Internet.
The agreement was struck in Europe, but it will have consequences worldwide because the terms for licensing Microsoft’s intellectual property will be extended to competitors in the United States and in other markets. If the new terms enhance competition, as the regulators say, consumers could benefit from lower prices and faster innovation in software.
The Microsoft deal leaves untouched the ruling last month by Europe’s second-highest court that provides a strong legal foundation for the European Union’s power to force a dominant company to share its intellectual property with rivals.
But just how much effect the agreement will have on the global software marketplace remains uncertain because many issues in the case already have been addressed, either by engineering or by previous legal settlements, according to some industry analysts.
As part of its past efforts to settle its antitrust problems, Microsoft has reached costly agreements with competitors that were the company’s most outspoken critics, including Sun Microsystems, IBM and Novell. In general, analysts said, the private settlements between Microsoft and competitors provided for cross-licensing and sharing technology.
What is clear is how much Microsoft’s room for legal maneuvering was limited by the ruling last month by the Court of First Instance in Luxembourg. The court reaffirmed that Microsoft, the world’s largest software maker, had abused its market power and said the company must obey a 2004 European Commission order to share confidential computer code with competitors.
After the courtroom setback, Steven A. Ballmer, Microsoft’s chief executive, wrote a conciliatory letter to Neelie Kroes, the European competition commissioner, according to a commission staff official.