Microsoft Corp. has asked for more time to respond to the EU Commission's objections in an antitrust case against it, a letter from the U.S. software giant's lawyers showed on Thursday.
The company faces fines of up to 2 million euros ($2.4 million) a day for failing to comply with remedies contained in an EU court antitrust decision against it in March 2004.
The Commission gave Microsoft until February 15 to answer to its objections against the non-compliance. After that date, the EU executive would have to make another decision, taking into account Microsoft's response, in order to carry out the fine.
But Microsoft lawyers complained in the letter to the case's hearing officer that they lacked enough access to documents to respond by the deadline.
"It would be appropriate to grant Microsoft a further extension of time in which to prepare its defense since Microsoft should have access to the missing documents in due time," the letter, seen by Reuters, said.
The Commission alleges that the company failed to provide rival software makers with certain information they need to compete fairly against it.
Commission competition spokesman Jonathan Todd said a decision on such an extension would be up to the hearing officer in the case, who is independent of the Commission.
The officer had already given Microsoft a three-week extension that brought the deadline up to mid-February.
Spats over access to documents are a prominent feature of merger and antitrust cases. Microsoft said the absence of documents was "seriously prejudicing" its right of defense.
"Indeed, I take the liberty of suggesting that normal rights of defense are being trumped by the supposed need to avert a 'danger to effective competition,"' Ian Forrester QC, a senior lawyer for Microsoft, wrote.
Seeing as correspondence between Microsoft and the hearing officer is still continuing, "it is therefore premature for Microsoft to claim that the Commission has prejudiced their rights of defense," Todd said.
He said hearing officers existed to ensure that due process was fully respected, but that also they needed to balance the right of defense and the right to business secrets, which may be revealed if a company is allowed to see documents.
"Microsoft is very attached, as you know, to business secrets -- its own business secrets," Todd told reporters.