Microsoft Antitrust Case Sparks Lobby Group Turf War

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The latest Microsoft antitrust battle in Europe has sparked a turf war between lobby groups that claim to represent small and medium size enterprises' (SMEs) interests in the case.PIN-SME, a lobby group on the side of the European Commission -- Europe's top antitrust authority -- hit out at rival the Association for Competitive Technology (ACT) in a statement Thursday. The document dismissed ACT's claim earlier this week that SMEs need a solid Windows platform containing Internet Explorer (IE) for building software.The Commission is considering forcing Microsoft to strip out IE because bundling it with Windows gives the company an unfair lead over rival browsers. This concern sparked the Commission's most recent Microsoft antitrust probe.Countering ACT, PIN-SME said small businesses benefit "only when a variety of open and standards-compliant browsers" exist in a market. PIN-SME says it represents 50,000 SMEs in Europe's IT sector.In addition, ACT's statement only concentrates on desktop software development, PIN-SME said, and ignores Web-based applications. "For SMEs to grow and compete in the web applications market, it is essential to maintain a level playing field by enforcing the existence of a variety of browsers," said PIN-SME Secretary General Sebastiano Toffaletti in the statement.In a direct challenge to ACT's claim to represent SMEs, Toffaletti questioned the rival trade group's impartiality in the case, given that Microsoft is a long-standing member of ACT, "and its ability to provide an independent SME representative opinion."ACT this week submitted its opinions on the Microsoft antitrust case to the Commission. It said it is acting on behalf of 73 SME firms. ACT president Jonathan Zuck hit back at Toffaletti's criticism in an interview, pointing out that Microsoft is a sponsor, not a member, of the trade group, and defending his impartiality.Sponsors also include Oracle and eBay, and together their revenue comes to roughly the same amount as ACT makes from membership fees from its 4,000 members, Zuck said. He added that the trade group counts around 1,000 European IT SMEs as members.Zuck said the trade group is independent of its sponsors. For example, it supported the Google DoubleClick deal last year while Microsoft opposed it.And he went on the attack too, saying PIN-SME was an amalgam of "government-sponsored regional groups without any SMEs as direct members."Another long-serving Microsoft ally in its European Commission antitrust battles, the Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA) Thursday backed up Zuck's argument that SMEs are on Microsoft's side in the case.CompTIA is intervening in the Microsoft case on behalf of 90 SMEs, it said.The Commission's accusations "stand on dubious factual and legal grounds," CompTIA said in a statement. The browser and PC markets are highly competitive, making regulation "wholly unnecessary," CompTIA's legal counsel Lars Liebeler said.

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