PFP lawmakers criticize Microsoft over monopoly

The China Post staff

Lawmakers of the opposition People First Party (PFP) yesterday criticized Microsoft Corp. for violating Taiwan’s Fair Trade Law while labeling the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) a “collection company” for the American computer software giant. At a breakfast meeting discussing ways to obtain reasonable software prices, PFP legislators voiced their firm support for the government’s crackdown on counterfeit products. But they also expressed strong opposition to the market monopoly and dictation of prices that Microsoft enjoys. The exorbitant prices for some software are beyond the financial reach of students and small-sized enterprises and seen as a key factor for the rampant pirating problem in Taiwan. The lawmakers pointed out that Microsoft has used the tactic of slashing prices and even tacitly tolerating pirated versions of its software on the Taiwan market to get consumers addicted to its products. Once the Microsoft monopoly became established lawmakers say the software giant then raised it prices.

Prof. Tsai Jui-huang, director of the Information Management Department at the National Chengchi University, said at the meeting that the price tags for legitimate products are really too high.

Tsai said software companies will also suffer if students balk at the prohibitively high prices. After starting their working careers, students are unlikely to use products that they couldn’t afford to learn while studying. The PFP lawmakers alleged that the MOJ is favoring Microsoft in its latest crackdown on people and enterprises using counterfeit software. In a public demonstration of the MOJ’s intensified fight against the violations of the intellectual property rights (IPRs), Justice Minister Chen Ting-nan inked contracts with Microsoft Taiwan Corporation and Symantec to purchase legitimate software products like Microsoft OfficeXP and Norton AntiVirus. There were reports that the MOJ got a special discount on the deal, though Chen declined to disclose the figures. The PFP legislators, who were displeased with only meeting a low-ranking section chief, said the ministry has downgraded its role to become a collection agency for Microsoft. They questioned whether the MOJ will work so hard when other companies file the same complaints about the infringements on their IPRs. The lawmakers have urged the Fair Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate whether Microsoft has violated the Fair Trade Law. FTC Chairman Huang Chung-lo agreed to set up a special panel to probe the allegations, promising to get back to the lawmakers within one week following an initial inquiry. Halting the probe The legislators demanded that the MOJ temporarily halt its crackdown on piracy until the FTC completes its investigation and Microsoft demonstrates its goodwill concerning its pricing policy. Otherwise, they said they will take Minister Chen to court for attempting to benefit a particular company. Wu Chen-wo, a department director at the FTC who attended the morning meeting, explained that securing a monopoly on the Taiwan market does not violate regulations. He said a problem arises if the company with the monopoly position has abused its privilege and manipulated its prices. Companies found guilty of these practices will face fines between NT$50,000 and NT$25 million. Repeat violators may be subject to jail terms up to three years plus a fine of NT$100 million. Please see MICROSOFT on page

An executive of Microsoft Taiwan Corporation refused to comment on the lawmakers’ allegations that the software giant has manipulated marketing prices of its products. But he said that there are standard prices for Microsoft’s products on the world market. He stated that in accordance with the ongoing crackdown counterfeits launched on May 1, Microsoft Taiwan is offering special discounts that may slash up to 40 percent off the original price of some software.

Collective bargaining