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Boeing may join Microsoft in EU antitrust fight

Aircraft giant may argue against European antitrust regulators' order to make Microsoft give secrets to rivals.

Boeing is considering joining forces with Microsoft in its fight against European antitrust regulators.

The European Commission, which oversees legislation for the European Union, has ordered Microsoft to offer a version of Windows without a bundled media player and to disclose more technical information to its rivals on a temporary, or interim, basis until the merits of the case are ultimately heard.

Should Boeing file a brief, it would be asking to intervene in the case that will deal with the merits of the Commission's ruling--a trial several years away. The deadline to participate in the "interim measures" hearing on Sept. 30 has already passed, according to a source familiar with the case.

Microsoft is reaching out to other companies that could be affected by the ramifications of the antitrust ruling. Since the Commission's ruling last March, Microsoft said, it has fielded companies' inquiries about the potential effect on their respective industries. Microsoft is also taking the initiative to reach out to other businesses on the issue.

"We are convinced the process will benefit from the broadest possble range of companies from different sectors," Horacio Gutierrez, Microsoft's lead attorney on the case, said in a statement.

A British antitrust attorney based in Brussels said Microsoft is barking up the wrong tree with this strategy.

"(Microsoft) thinks it's going to get an advantage from this and sway the court. But it's only going to convince the court they are ignorant about its procedures," attorney Frank Fine said, noting that parties intervening in a case have to show the issue is directly relevant to their businesses. "Airbus can't show a connection to Windows' media player and servers. ...Microsoft should know this. It's utter stupidity."

Boeing is reviewing the matter at Microsoft's request, a spokesman for the aircraft maker said.

"(Microsoft) came to us and told us that Airbus is supporting (its) position and (that) it would be great if Boeing could offer its support," said Tim Neale, a Boeing spokesman. "Out task is to look closely at (Microsoft's) case and arguments, and see if it makes sense to do that."

Boeing expects to decide soon, he said. It could file a brief in support of Microsoft's position, or it could follow its French rival, Airbus, and merely seek more information on the court's position. Airbus said its brief, filed with the Court of First Instance in late August, involved a question about one point in the Commission's ruling.

"It's only a request for clarification. We're not taking sides," an Airbus spokeswoman said, though the brief had been technically filed on behalf of Microsoft. "The procedure in the European courts is such that it appears we are taking sides--but we are not."

Airbus is seeking clarification on the Commission's market estimates and approaches, she noted.

Fifteen companies have filed briefs to intervene in the case on behalf of both parties. Independent software developers, media companies, and Web site designers and applications developers have been among those intervening on behalf of Microsoft, a source familiar with the case said.