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27 July 2010, 09:40

European anti-trust watchdogs scrutinise IBM

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IBM Logo The European Commission has initiated two anti-trust investigations against US corporation IBM. The Brussels anti-trust watchdogs are investigating two cases of alleged abuse of a dominant market position by IBM. Both cases are related to IBM's conduct on the market for mainframe computers, said the European Commission in Brussels on Monday.

Following complaints by software vendors Turbo Hercules and T3 Technologies, the European Commission will evaluate whether IBM has tried to shut out third-party vendors by tying its mainframe hardware to its mainframe operating systems – especially to z/OS. In a further investigation begun on its own initiative, the Commission is also looking into whether IBM has discriminated against competing suppliers of mainframe maintenance services. For instance, there are concerns that the vendor may have restricted or delayed the access to spare parts for which IBM is the only source.

After a complaint by Platform Solutions Inc. (PSI), the European Commission had already investigated the US vendor's mainframe business in 2007. The investigation was inconclusive. IBM and PSI also went to court about patent rights and anti-trust allegations. In 2008, IBM settled the quarrel by taking over PSI. Regulative authorities in the US have also taken an interest in IBM's business practices in the mainframe market.

In a statement, IBM said that it intends to cooperate with the European anti-trust authorities. The Wall Street Journal reported that IBM has dismissed the allegations as unfounded. IBM reportedly believes that the complainants are "satellite proxies" driven by Microsoft, one of its main competitors. The vendor accused Microsoft of using anti-trust tactics to improve the market position of its own server technology.

Turbo Hercules offers an emulator that is based on the Hercules open source project and allows mainframe applications to run on other hardware. The French software vendor complained to Brussels about IBM not licensing its operating systems without its own hardware. US vendor T3 also has a similar solution on offer and was turned down in the first instance of a civil lawsuit against IBM in the US.

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