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Microsoft: EU ruling could come soon

Top lawyer tells shareholders the ruling, expected as early as December, could provide "clarity" for industry.

Microsoft chief lawyer Brad Smith said Tuesday that the company expects to hear back from a European court as early as December on its appeal of the landmark antitrust ruling there.

"We expect to get that decision really in the next several months," Smith said during a question-and-answer session at the company's shareholder meeting in Bellevue, Wash. "Most people think it will probably come some time between December and March or April."

The European Union's antitrust regulators slapped Microsoft with a $600 million fine in March 2004, but the software maker has been pursuing an appeal of the case with Europe's Court of First Instance.

Smith said whatever the decision is, it should give Microsoft and the industry more "clarity."

"We'll all have to see where we go from there," he said during the meeting, which was also broadcast over the Internet. "Certainly, we and increasingly a lot of other people in Europe would like to see us get to some clear resolution so we can all focus on some other things."

Regulators tacked on an additional $357 million fine in July, saying Microsoft was not fully complying with the 2004 ruling. Microsoft is appealing that as well.

Smith's comments came after a shareholder asked Microsoft executives: "In Europe, how long are they going to keep stringing you along. Do you think they have any intention of ever letting you off the hook?"

It has gone on for a long time, Smith agreed. "It's been going for about eight years," he said.

Also at the meeting, Microsoft shareholders elected the company's proposed slate of directors and rejected three shareholder proposals. CEO Steve Ballmer and Chairman Bill Gates addressed the shareholders, who also got a demo of the Zune music player that went on sale earlier in the day.