On April 3rd in 2000, Microsoft was found to have an “Oppressive Thumb” on their competitors and violated Anti-trust laws. In other words, Microsoft was a Monopoly. After further Appeals and litigation, Microsoft was ordered to share some of it’s application program interfaces for the next 5 years.
It is impressive to see a company get to the point where they could be considered a Monopoly. I suppose you don’t have to be as humongous as Microsoft, or AT&T in the late 70’s when they violated the antitrust laws – but it does help. And of course when you get to that level, you get attacked at so many different angles.
It did get me to thinking – what other IT related companies are close to violation of antitrust? With Google’s recent scrutiny of the purchase of DoubleClick, do they have to worry about antitrust?
United States antitrust law is the body of laws that prohibits anti-competitive behavior (monopoly) and unfair business practices. These competition laws make illegal certain practices deemed to hurt businesses or consumers or both, or generally to violate standards of ethical behavior. Government agencies known as competition regulators regulate antitrust laws and may also be responsible for regulating related laws dealing with consumer protection. The term “antitrust” was originally formulated to combat “business trusts,” now more commonly known as cartels. Other countries use the term “competition law.” Many countries including most of the Western world have antitrust laws of some form; for example the European Union has provisions under the Treaty of Rome to maintain fair competition, as does Australia under its Trade Practices Act 1974.
Cable TV has been in and out of the antitrust radar for years. Some say that Cable TV still has a stranglehold on the average consumer. You do have the choice of Cable or Satellite and with the changing ISP market, you might find you will be watching your favorite TV shows online rather than on a channel.
In January, Apple was brought up on the antitrust act for their media devices. The idea was that the media player would play Apple formats, but would not play Windows Media Files. Apple would “cripple” the WMA format.
Intel was accused of driving up prices in 2005. AMD filed the suit and it was found that while not prevalent in the US, it was to continue outside the US. The Antitrust case is still being litigated.
Even the RIAA is not prone to antitrust activity. In 2003, the RIAA was sued by The Webcaster Alliance because it showed it was trying to control the Royalty fees. They even had Congressman Sensenbrenner in their back pocket to Lobby for them.
So who is the next Monopoly going to be? CNet blogged last year that they believed Netflix could be seing antitrust suits because they sued Blockbuster for patent infringement. Like we mentioned earlier, Google had just went through the legal hoops because it wanted to purchase DoubleClick. So it’s not a Monopoly by the books, however a lot of people are seeing Monopolizing features with Google.
It is a little sad, though – you work hard day and night on a new program or process that’s going to revolutionize IT. You patent, copyright and trademark what needs to be and put the item out on the market. It’s so popular, not only does the public buy it, but other companies try to copy it. You then slap those companies on the wrist for trying to copy that process, but you are so big that you get in trouble for controlling what you so diligently created too much.
Can Open Source be a Monopoly? I suppose if they push other companies out of business. But would that be so bad? Open Source is an option for the average consumer to do things that they normally couldn’t without paying for. After all, you can install an Operating system with tons of programs like a Word Processor, Spreadsheet program, email, internet and so much more without paying a penny for it. 5-10 years ago, you would have paid $500-600 for that same software.
Getting “Too big for your britches” is a thing you have to worry about. It’s great to make it to the top, but the real question is, who is going to ultimately push you off? Maybe it will be you.