"Irony alert" are the words that digitaltrends.com uses to introduce its dispatch on the news that Microsoft (MSFT), once the target of a federal antitrust suit in the U.S., has filed a formal antitrust complaint in the European Union against Google (GOOG).
Ten years from now, Google will probably be pleading for the government to take antitrust action against Facebook, and 10 years after that, Facebook will probably be asking the government to take antitrust action against some company that doesn't even exist yet and that makes some product or provides some service that we can't even imagine today. In other words, if you want evidence that government antitrust enforcement in the technology field is usually unnecessary or pointless, look no further than the fact that innovation manages to turn yesterday's monopolist into today's monopoly victim.
Now, one could argue that if the U.S. government hadn't intervened and if every Windows machine shipped with Internet Explorer pre-loaded as its web browser, everyone would now be searching with Microsoft's Bing instead of with Google, and Google might never have grown as it did. But I don't find that argument particularly persuasive. The original antitrust case against Microsoft wasn't about search engines; it was about browsers.
Microsoft's blog post explaining its action says:
There of course will be some who will point out the irony in today's filing. Having spent more than a decade wearing the shoe on the other foot with the European Commission, the filing of a formal antitrust complaint is not something we take lightly. This is the first time Microsoft Corporation has ever taken this step. More so than most, we recognize the importance of ensuring that competition laws remain balanced and that technology innovation moves forward.
We readily appreciate that Google should continue to have the freedom to innovate. But it shouldn't be permitted to pursue practices that restrict others from innovating and offering competitive alternatives. That's what it's doing now. And that's what we hope European officials will assess and ultimately decide to stop.
Disclosure: I own some shares of Google.