A preliminary European court judgment today upheld a complaint against the European Commission for failing to investigate alleged antitrust abuses by Microsoft France.

The alleged antitrust abuses involve the company's ban on imports of Microsoft software from Canada. The software imported from Canada was cheaper than the software distributed via Microsoft France's officially recognized distribution network.

"We have just received the judgment, and will now study it in detail before deciding on our response," said Jonathan Faull, deputy spokesman for the Commission.

The Commission has two months to appeal the judgment by the Court of First Instance to the full Court of Justice, both based in Luxembourg, or it can comply with the ruling and open an investigation, he explained.

"Generally, we comply," he added.

The case concerns a complaint submitted to the Commission in 1996 by Micro Leader Business, a French software wholesaler, alleging that Microsoft had violated antitrust rules when it banned Micro Leader from reselling copyrighted Microsoft software imported from Canada.

These so-called parallel imports by Micro Leader undercut the prices charged for software in France by the official Microsoft distribution network.

The Commission dismissed the complaint in 1998, rejecting Micro Leader's allegation that the blocking of the imports was prompted by an illegal agreement among Microsoft distributors in France on price levels for software. The Commission added in its decision that since the imported software was protected by copyright, by importing it into France without Microsoft's permission, Micro Leader's action constituted an "illegal usurption of rights," according to the text of the judgment.

The Court of First Instance disagreed, ruling that the Commission "should have at least verified if the elements raised by the complainant were or were not established." In other words, the Commission should have launched an investigation to verify the facts of the complaint.