An antitrust investigation into International Business Machines has ended as the company agrees to change the way it supplies parts and information to rivals. The European Commission announced that it has accepted I.B.M.’s offer to supply technical information and some spare parts to companies that maintain and service I.B.M. mainframe computers on nondiscriminatory terms for five years. I.B.M. also agreed to offer rivals the information speedily and provide the parts at a price that does not put the rivals at a disadvantage competitively.
The commission worried that I.B.M. might be abusing its dominant position in the market for maintenance services for I.B.M.’s mainframes, offered both by the company and by independent operators. A spokeswoman for the commission told reporters that the investigation involved “concerns we had that I.B.M. was imposing unreasonable conditions for supplying spare parts and technical information that is necessary for its competition to maintain or service its mainframes.” Independent operators that provide maintenance for the mainframes need fast access to spare parts and technical information in order to be able to compete effectively.
The European commissioner for competition, Joaquín Almunia, said, “Timely interventions are crucial in fast-moving technology markets,” and was pleased that a swift solution had been found for the concerns raised. This is the second case involving I.B.M. closed by the commission this year.
Dennis Oswell, managing partner of Oswell & Vahida, said, “More and more we see an appreciation and an understanding that they cannot treat this industry in the same way as you treat the automobile industry. If you take your time you could be looking for remedies for problems that no longer exist.” He said that the commission had been “uncomfortable with the technology sector, but they have really made an effort to get up to speed.”
I.B.M., based in Armonk, New York, released a statement saying that I.B.M. welcomes the resolution and was “pleased that the commission’s investigation of the IBM mainframe is now concluded.” Amelia Torres, a spokeswoman for Mr. Almunia, said, “These commitments are legally binding for five years. I.B.M. must respect them or risk a fine.” The European Commission is the leading antitrust regulator for the European Union and has the ability to fine companies up to 10% of their global revenue if the commission finds that the company engages in anti-competitive practices.