Regulators from the European Union's (EU's) European Commission announced this morning that they have discontinued an antitrust investigation of Microsoft's joint purchase of ContentGuard. The Commission is suspending its investigation because France-based Thomson is joining Microsoft and Time Warner in the purchase, and EU law prevents the Commission from investigating a purchase that involves more than two companies. All three companies will now own equal shares of the Digital Rights Management (DRM) technologies developer.
"We all worked closely and constructively with the European Commission throughout this process and are pleased to reach this resolution," Microsoft Senior Vice President and General Counsel Brad Smith said. "Content Guard will help promote broader access to DRM technologies that will benefit businesses and consumers in Europe and around the world."
The Commission had been investigating the purchase because it feared that one of the two potential owners would gain a controlling interest in what is seen as an increasingly key digital technology. That owner could then gain an unfair advantage over rivals. However, the introduction of a third owner, Thomson, means that the ContentGuard purchase is no longer subject to EU merger laws. The Commission is still concerned about the sale's antitrust implications; it just has no legal grounds to continue its investigation. "We'll have to monitor what goes on in the market," the Commission's Director General of Competition Philip Lowe said this morning.
ContentGuard and its three owners will now attempt to create interoperable DRM solutions and promote the use of DRM in multiple devices from a variety of content creators. ContentGuard owns key DRM software patents, which were at the heart of the Commission's investigation.