In a 91-page ruling, European Union (EU) judge Bo Vesterdorf, the President of the European Court of First Instance, tossed aside Microsoft's stay request, deciding that the software giant must immediately suffer the consequences of its antitrust abuses in Europe. Previously, the EU had fined Microsoft approximately $665 million and ordered the company to release a version of Windows without Windows Media Player, and to divulge secrets about its Windows Server products to competitors. Microsoft had sought to suspend the sanctions while it mounted a legal appeal.
"Microsoft has not shown that it might suffer serious and irreparable damage as a result of implementation of the contested decision \[during the appeal\]", Vesterdorf wrote in his ruling. "Microsoft's application for interim measures is therefore dismissed in its entirety."
EU representatives immediately expressed their relief at the ruling, which Microsoft critics had feared would be another instance of the software giant somehow getting yet another pass after a damaging legal defeat. "Today's order is important because it preserves the effectiveness of antitrust enforcement, in particular in fast-moving markets," said an EU spokesperson. "Implementation of the Commission's March decision will not only benefit consumers of computer products in terms of choice of media players on computers and choice of work group servers, but also stimulate innovation."
Microsoft, for its part, expressed hope that the company could still settle the case and avoid a long legal battle. However, this week's ruling puts the company in a greatly disadvantaged positition. "While the court did not find immediate irreparable harm from the Commission's proposed remedies, the court recognized that some of our arguments on the merits of the case are well-founded and may ultimately carry the day when the substantive issues are resolved in the full appeal," Microsoft wrote in a statement. But an EU spokesperson noted that it wasn't interested in renegotiating with Microsoft.
This week's EU ruling comes after over two months of legal assessments by Vesterdorf, who had overseen hearings between Microsoft and EU lawyers in October. In a conference call with reporters, Microsoft said that it would begin shipping the media player-less Windows version to PC makers in January and consumers in February, and will work at doing an "excellent job" complying with the EU decision. The company claimed it had yet to decide whether to appeal the ruling.