Six LCD makers have been assessed fines of over $850 million (€648 million) by the European Commission for allegedly "operating a cartel which harmed European buyers of television sets, computers, and other products" infused with LCD technology. The companies involved include Samsung, LG, AU Optronics, Chimei InnoLux, Chunghwa Picture Tubes, and HannStar.
"Foreign companies, like European ones, need to understand that if they want to do business in Europe they must play fair. The companies concerned knew they were breaking competition rules and took steps to conceal their illegal behavior. The only understanding we will show is for those that come forward to denounce a cartel and help prove its existence," said Commission Vice President in charge of competition policy Joaquín Almunia.
According to the European Commission, the six LCD makers colluded for four years to fix prices, including price ranges and minimum prices, and exchanged information on future production planning, capacity utilization, and other commercial conditions. What's more, the so-called cartel reportedly held monthly multilateral meetings some 60 times, most often in hotels in Taiwan.
While Samsung was one of the six LCD makers involved, the company "received full immunity" for bringing the cartel to the Commission's attention and providing information on how it was run.
The European Union is notorious for its heavy handed fines to mega corporations who run afoul of the law, so it's easy to see why Apple opted to reverse two policies that recently drew the regulatory agency's eye.
Apple came under scrutiny earlier this year over its iPhone warranty policy within the EU, along with mandates over what development tools and programs could be used to code Apple-compatible apps. But with Apple making amends to its iPhone warranty, the EU is giving the Cupertino company a pass.
"Following today's announcement, Apple is no longer enforcing the 'country of purchase' rule within the EU/EEA and has appointed independent Authorized Service Providers to offer cross-border iPhone warranty services in those Member States where Apple does not directly take charge of repairs," the EU said in a statement. "Earlier on this month, Apple also announced having removed restrictions previously introduced on the development tools used to create iPhone apps, restoring the use of third-party layers and so giving developers more flexibility."
Apple's policy reversals likely saved the company from hefty fines. In 2008, the EU nailed Microsoft with a then-record setting fine of $1.35 billion "for defying sanctions imposed for antitrust violations," and then set another record when the agency smacked Intel for $1.45 billion in 2009 on similar charges.
"Apple's response to our preliminary investigations shows that the Commission can use the competition rules to achieve swift results on the market with clear benefits for consumers, without the need to open formal proceedings," the EU added.
Following an extensive investigation into alleged price fixing violations, the European Commission found nine memory makers guilty of wrongdoing and fined them a collective $404 million.
The companies involved include Samsung, Infineon, Hynix, Elpida, NEC, Hitachi, Toshiba, Mitsubishi, and Nanya, all of which submitted settlements admitting their liability for infringement, according to reports. Micron would also have been included, but ultimately was not fined since it told the Commission about the cartel as far back as 2002.
"You may think that to use the word 'settlement' next to the word 'cartel' sounds quite strange," Almunia said. "So let me explain right away that we are not compromising on cartels, with or without a settlement. A cartel is the worst violation of competition rules since its object is to collude against the interests of other companies and of consumers."
Samsung received the biggest fine at $145.7 million, with Infineon receiving the second largest fine at $56.7 million. The cartel is said to have operated from July 1, 1998 and June 15, 2002.
No sooner did Microsoft settle its antitrust woes with the European union, than it turned around and allegedly threw Google under the very same bus. Up until now little has been known about Redmond's involvement, but ZDNet blogger Mary Jo Foley has confirmed Microsoft executives have been in contact with EU regulators in recent months about Google's monopolistic position in search. In addition to direct involvement, they even owned up to encouraging others to come forward to register similar complaints. As many commenter's are likely to point out, the irony of Microsoft's complaint isn't lost on us. Based on all the antitrust woes they have been forced to endure in the past, they seem likely a pretty unlikely candidate to spark this debate against Google.
For its part, Microsoft is trying to explain its viewpoint with its "On The Issues Blog", but it's a pretty thick read full of legalese. The closing arguments however do a pretty good job of summing it up. "Microsoft would obviously be among the first to say that leading firms should not be punished for their success. Nor should firms be punished just because a particular business practice may harm a rival-competition on the merits can do that, too. That is a position that Microsoft has long espoused, and we're sticking to it. Our concerns relate only to Google practices that tend to lock in business partners and content (like Google Books) and exclude competitors, thereby undermining competition more broadly."
This could be the start of a very public, very bloody war between Google and Microsoft.
According to EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding, “In Europe, we have high standards for data protection. I expect that all companies play according to the rules of the game.” And the EU didn’t stop there: “Google needs to raise much more awareness of Street View cars going though people's streets as there is an option to opt out of appearing in them but no one knows about it.”
Google’s response came from corporate lawyer Peter Fleischer, who said, “The need to retain the unblurred images is legitimate and justified--to ensure the quality and accuracy of our maps, to improve our ability to rectify mistakes in blurring, as well as to use the data we have collected to build better maps products for our users.” And it probably doesn’t help that a six-month retention limit might double Google’s Street View costs.
While it appears that Google will comply with the EU’s dictate, it has no such plans for amending its present 12-month policy elsewhere. Says Fleischer: “We have publicly committed to a retention period of 12 months from the date on which images are published on Street View, and this is the period which we will continue to meet globally.”
In a deal first announced in November 2009, the European Commission has notified HP that it will not stand in the way of the company's $2.7 billion bid to acquire 3Com.
"The Commission concluded that the concentration would be unlikely to riase competition concerns," the EC said in a statement, adding that "the merged company would continue to face a number of global and effective competitors, giving customers the choice from a range of alternative providers for switches and routers."
No conditions were attached to the approval, and HP said it expects to close the deal by the end of June. However, China's competition regulator, the Ministry of Commerce, or Mofcom, hasn't yet ruled on the takeover, though the deal doesn't pose much threat to competition in China.
Both companies build networking products and by adding 3Com to its portfolio, HP will increase its position in the core networking space, as well as increase its competition with Cisco Systems.
IBM last week said it would begin collaborating with industry leaders and universities scattered throughout the European Union to improve several facets of modern chip design, including the productivity and reliability of semiconductor and electronic systems.
"Designing a microelectronic chip is very expensive and the design costs are the greatest threat to continuation of the semiconductor industry's phenomenal growth," noted Dr. Jaan Raik, senior researcher at Tallinna Tehnikaulikool and coordinator of the DIAMOND project. "The increasing gap between the complexity of new systems and the productivity of system design methods can only be mitigated by developing new and more competent design methods and tools."
The goal of the new integrated approach is to localize and stomp out bugs on all abstraction levels. IBM points out that about 70 percent of today's design efforts are placed on verification and debugging, while soft errors -- like transient errors caused by cosmic radiation -- ranks as a rapidly growing threat.
The DIAMOND consortium will use a holistic approach to develop new tools and methods to help track all of these errors.
It's finally over, and we couldn't be happier. Not because we have any kind of vested interest in Oracle's takeover of Sun, but now that the acquisition is complete, we can stop following the rollercoaster ride and gain a sense of closure in a story we've been following for too long.
But as happy as we are, Oracle has to be thrilled to put this whole thing behind them, though you'd never know it from the company's ultra-brief press release (see here).
Maybe's Oracle's just worn out, and who can blame them. After gaining quick approval from the U.S. Department of Justice for its proposed $7.4 billion takeover of Sun Microsystems, Oracle, an unstoppable force, ran into the European Union, an immovable object. What happened? Oracle stopped and the EU moved, but not before Oracle gave up a series of concessions dealing with Sun's free MySQL database software.
"My hat is off to one of the greatest capitalists I have ever met, Larry Ellison," Sun Chairman Scott McNealy said in a memo. "To be honest, this is not a note this founder wants to write. Sun, in my mind, should have been the great and surviving consolidator. But I love the market economy and capitalism more than I love my company."
So will Oracle make good on its promise not to treat its MySQL database like a red-headed stepchild? That's the only question that remains to be answered.
It's finally over, at least as far as the European Union is concerned. The big news in the IT industry today is that Oracle has officially been given the green light by EU regulators to proceed with its $7.4 billion acquisition of Sun Microsystems.
"I am now satisfied that competition and innovation will be preserved on all the markets concerned," said EU competition commissioner Neelie Kroes, in a statement. "Oracle's acquisition of Sun has the potential to revitalize important assets and create new and innovative products."
It wasn't that long ago that EU regulators were singing a different tune. The major stumbling block had been Oracle's impending control of the free MySQL, which drew concern over what Oracle would do with the database software in light of selling its own database product. But those concerns were put to rest when Oracle agreed to a series of concessions, some of which included promising to pay $72 million over the next three years in R&D to improve MySQL, and extending MySQL's existing commercial licenses for up to five years.
"The Commission's in-depth investigation showed that although MySQL and Oracle compete in certain parts of the database market, they are not close competitors in others, such as the high-end segment," the EU said in a statement.
There's still work to be done, and before Oracle can pop the cork on the champagne bottles, it will need to convince regulators in Russia and China to jump on board. Protesters from the MySQL community recently turned their attention to these very markets in hopes of blocking the deal, but Oracle still says it expects "unconditional approval" to come soon.
Search engines are incredibly useful tools for finding stuff of interest on the Internet. But each time a search engine is used a little bit of you is collected and stored for analysis: your IP address and the terms you’ve searched. Collectively, your search habits can tell quite a bit about you, which raises privacy concerns. How will this data be used? How long will it be kept? The latter question is important because not only does it allow a search engine provider a clearer picture of you, it means the data is lying about where other, less scrupulous people, might get their hands on it. Thus is set the stage for a confrontation: search engine provides who want to collect and keep as much data as they can, versus governments acting to protect the privacy interests of their citizens.
The European Union (EU) is a bit of a stickler on privacy. Under its Article 29 Data Protection Working Party it recommends companies keep the data they collect no longer than six months. Microsoft, the provider of the Bing search engine, however, keeps its users’ query data for 18 months. The EU, naturally, wanted an explanation for this lengthy data retention. Rather than pick another fight with the EU, Microsoft has announced it will lower its data retention period to the EU’s recommended six months.
Microsoft’s policy change will take 12 to 18 months to initiate. Microsoft wants to make sure its new data collection and retention system will be secure. Microsoft, in capitulation, also asked the playing field be leveled--that all search engine providers be forced to comply so none would be disadvantaged. Microsoft’s request was targeted, most likely, at Google, which has a nine month retention policy.