Timothy Lee

European consumers and small businesses are suffering the effects of the European Union's continuing vendetta against Microsoft, and they're finally speaking up about it.

For years, European bureaucrats have cavalierly targeted Microsoft and other American companies like General Electric and Apple, assuming that they could do so with impunity. The predictable consequence of this E.U. campaign, however, is a de facto trade barrier, resulting in inferior products, fewer choices, higher prices and delayed access to the latest technological innovations for European consumers.

Beginning in March 2004, the European Commission ("E.C.") fined Microsoft a record €497 million ($612 million), brazenly demanding that Microsoft share its sensitive proprietary codes with competitors whose inferior products lost to Microsoft in the open marketplace. According to the E.C. at the time, Microsoft had committed the unspeakable crime of winning too great a market share, and held it responsible for providing a hand up to those competitors.

Then, this past July, the E.C. again fined Microsoft €281 million ($357 million), asserting that Microsoft somehow defied its antitrust orders. And what orders did they defy, you ask? Nothing short of demanding that Microsoft surrender its patented program codes with tantrum-throwing competitors. The fact that Microsoft invests billions of dollars and innumerable man-hours developing its intellectual property apparently means nothing to European bureaucrats.

Now, as Microsoft prepares to introduce its revolutionary Windows Vista operating system, the E.U. is warning it not to "shut out" rivals in the security software market. Translated, the E.U. won't tolerate Windows Vista being so superior a product that everyone will want to purchase it.

Call it the E.U. version of "Affirmative Action."

The reason that Microsoft developed integrated security features in the first place was that customers demanded them. E.U. Spokesman Jonathan Todd, however, warned that Microsoft cannot incorporate its planned security into Windows Vista, as this would "foreclose the existing competition in the security software markets." But complying with this mandate will obviously render the program less secure in order to protect Microsoft's competitors.

This is tantamount to the E.C. demanding that Coca Cola surrender its secret formula to inferior rivals, simply because European consumers happen to prefer Coke. Then again, we probably just provided the E.C. with its next bright idea.

Timothy Lee

Timothy Lee is the director of legal and public affairs at the Center for Individual Freedom, a free-market and constitutional advocacy organization based in Alexandria, Virginia.

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