IBM and Europe squaring off for new bout in antitrust fight
Brussels — On both sides of the Atlantic, battle lines are being drawn for the next round in what is seen as a historic antitrust collision between IBM and the European Community.
In the coming weeks, the European Common Market Commission is expected to announce the final decision in its four-year action against the international computer and business machine giant.
Despite intensive efforts by IBM to work out a negotiated settlement or block the EC decision, many feel that the EC Commission will confirm its earlier finding that IBM violated treaty regulations by abusing its strong position in the European market.
If the EC ruling goes against IBM, another lengthy phase in this struggle may ensue, involving a company appeal of the decision before the EC's European Court of Justice.
At present, following the 1982 dismissal of a similar conflict with the United States government, the EC is asking IBM to furnish other companies with details of its anticipated products.
In its original charge against IBM in early 1981, the European Commission contended the company had violated EC treaty provision against ''abuse of dominant position'' and ordered IBM to stop withholding information about its products.
In theory, the Commission could have levied a fine of up to 10 percent of IBM's sales.
The intervening years have been taken up with hearings, with IBM challenges to the authority of the Commission to make such findings, and, last, with various IBM proposals for a negotiated settlement. The company has steadfastly contended that it was cleared of such charges in the earlier US Justice Department antitrust case, which was dropped after 13 years.
IBM contends the information is of a highly secret nature and that in the past competitors have tried to obtain it through theft or espionage.
In recent weeks, the company, which in the past has moved discreetly in its legal efforts in the case, went public in vocal attacks. Again this month IBM officials said the company's latest proposals should be acceptable to the EC Commission.
IBM general counsel Nicholas deB. Katzenbach added that the case was based on ''deceptively simple assertions.''
More recently IBM challenged the concept that it should be forced to divulge its trade secrets to other companies.
As originally written, the EC complaint was directed at practices involving the sale of IBM's old System 370 mainframe computer and all equipment compatible with it.
Many within the company and outside it believe the EC antitrust action is part of a general European move to improve the competitiveness of European computer and high-technology companies.
But Mr. Katzenbach contends that to make IBM release its standards earlier would allow competitors and makers of compatible equipment more time to challenge the IBM lead.