EU's battle against Microsoft to shift up a gear this week

The EU's battle against the world's largest software company shifts up a gear this week as regulators prepare to fine Microsoft Corp. for flouting a 2004 ruling that said it deliberately tried to cripple rivals.

There was no word Monday on how much the European Commission would demand as a financial penalty. It has threatened to levy up to Ђ2 million (US$2.55 million) a day backdated to Dec. 15  which could see Microsoft ordered to pay out hundreds of millions of euros (dollars).

Antitrust regulators from the European Union's 25 nations met Monday to discuss the amount of the fine that EU Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes plans to make public after she wins the backing of European Commission colleagues on Wednesday.

Last week, she won the unanimous support of national competition authorities to carry out her threat to fine the company.

"I can't imagine any other way," she told reporters last week, warning that her officials did not shy away from taking complex cases against large companies if they believe they are damaging competition.

At issue is an EU order telling Microsoft to share information with rivals to help them develop software that works smoothly with its ubiquitous Windows desktop software.

Microsoft says the EU is asking it to hand over patented information, giving competitors a leg-up on Microsoft's own hard work and innovation. Its supporters claim this sets a dangerous precedent.

But the EU said it was only requesting the company supply "complete and accurate" interface information communications code that has little innovative value on "reasonable terms" within 120 days.

Microsoft fought the March 2004 ruling, but a judge dismissed its appeal against the sanctions in December 2004 and told it to comply immediately.

Nearly a year later, the Commission's technical advisers reported that Microsoft was still not obeying the order. An independent monitor appointed to oversee Microsoft's compliance issued a critical report in November 2005, saying the 12,000 pages of technical documentation it had supplied needed a drastic overhaul to be workable.

The EU filed formal charges in December, threatening the fines and giving Microsoft the chance to respond both in writing and at a formal hearing, reports AP.