European Commission investigates alleged abuse by MathWorks

On 1 March 2012 the Commission launched an investigation into allegedly abusive behavior by the software company MathWorks. The investigation seeks to determine whether MathWorks’ refusal to provide competitors with end-user licenses and interoperability information, which would allow competitors to lawfully reverse-engineer MathWorks’ software in order to achieve interoperability with its widely used products, amount to an abuse of a dominant position in breach of Article 102 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. The investigation has been prompted by a competitor’s complaint.

MathWorks software products, such as “Simulink” and “MATLAB,” are widely used for designing and simulating control systems that are deployed in many innovative industries, including in cruise control or anti-lock braking systems (ABS) for cars.

In a recent speech, EU Competition Commissioner Almunia recalled that this case is similar to the Microsoft case, where the issue of software interoperability was also of central importance. In Microsoft, the Commission found that a dominant company limits innovation to the detriment of consumers if it does not provide interoperability information for its products. Issues of access and interoperability are closely linked to the use – and abuse – of patents and intellectual property rights. In the present case, the Commission appears to have also taken into account the recent European Directive 2009/24/EC on the legal protection of computer programs, which aims to foster interoperability by allowing for reverse-engineering for interoperability purposes provided that the software at issue has been lawfully acquired. [Gabriele Accardo]