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EU's $1.35 billion fine on Microsoft to do any good?

As Microsoft gets hit yet again by the European Commission, CNET blogger Matt Asay says past fines haven't had any effect on the software company's business.

It's tough to please the European Commission on matters of antitrust. But then, Microsoft hasn't tried very hard.

The Commission just hit Microsoft with a $1.35 billion fine for being "unreasonable" over its proposed patent fee structure:

"Microsoft was the first company in fifty years of EU competition policy that the Commission has had to fine for failure to comply with an antitrust decision," said European Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes. "I hope that today's decision closes a dark chapter in Microsoft's record of noncompliance with the Commission's March 2004 decision and that the principles confirmed by the Court of First Instance ruling of September 2007 will govern Microsoft's future conduct."

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Now, why would she think that? The Commission has dinged Microsoft before with fines, to no effect. Clearly, it is using the wrong tools or perhaps has the wrong argument. The ironic thing is that Microsoft could reduce its patent fees from its initial 3.87 percent to 0 percent, and it wouldn't affect its business one iota.

Microsoft's decreasing proposals for patent royalties demonstrate that while it wants to hold on to the potential royalties, it really doesn't need them. Even if it did, Microsoft has taken such an ugly public stance on its patents that it's no wonder that the Commission wants to put it back in its place. Microsoft has tried to use its patents as a club against open source, and I've got to believe that the Commission doesn't appreciate it.

Where do we go from here? Well, I hope that the Commission stops crowning itself regulator of the free world. The market can take care of itself.

Google doesn't need the Commission to kick the snot out of Microsoft, and neither does open source. We're doing just fine, thank you, Ms. Kroes. As Mary Jo Foley writes, the Commission seems to be trying to protect competitors, not customers, and the competitors it is protecting are the same ones frittering away time in the 20th century. Time to move on.

As for Microsoft, it just needs to let go of its silly stance on patents. It may jibe well with the 20th century's concept of how one monetizes intellectual property, but we've moved on. Time for Microsoft to do so too.