LUXEMBOURG - Microsoft Corp. complained Wednesday that the European Commission had forced it to hand over trade secrets to rivals, effectively giving them a "free ride" on the work the software maker did to acquire new customers and develop new technologies.

But Microsoft's rivals said the company was trying to turn the case into a debate over intellectual property rights and skirt the commission's argument that Microsoft has abused its monopoly.

The European Commission's order for Microsoft Corp. to share its code so rivals' software can run smoothly with Windows took center stage Wednesday in the third day of the company's bid to have a landmark antitrust ruling against it overturned.

Microsoft lawyer Ian Forrester said the order had been an attempt "to handicap the (market) leader in perpetuity."

"The decision condemned a company for not saying yes to a company who requests a huge amount of secret technology for the future," he said.

"The Windows source code is copyright. It is valuable, the fruit of lots of effort," he said, adding that were it printed on paper, it would take up 12,650 pages.

Thomas Vinje, a lawyer for an industry group supporting the commission - the European Committee for Interoperable Systems, or ECIS - said Microsoft was blowing its patent rights out of proportion.

"Microsoft are trying to turn this into an intellectual property case when it's not," he said. "This is a case about abuse of a dominant position, about refusing to provide information to vendors."

Microsoft broke an informal agreement with EU advocates when it brought up the recent dispute over the company's compliance with the order to share its code- earning them a stern reprimand from Judge Bo Vesterdorf, who told Forrester to stick to the issue at stake.

Forrester had claimed that Microsoft was being threatened with 2 million euros ($2.4 million) in daily fines, backdated to Dec. 15, for not creating "a new copyright work" derived from Windows' secret source code.

EU regulators had asked Microsoft to supply a "complete and accurate" support manual for developers to help them make compatible software.

Last December, they charged Microsoft with not obeying the order after an independent monitor branded Microsoft's 12,650-page technical manual as "unfit at this stage for its intended purpose."

The world's largest software maker says it has the right to guard its valuable intellectual property, and maintains that it has worked strenuously to comply with the 2004 EU ruling that told it to pay a record 497 million euro ($613 million) fine.

The ruling was handed down after a five-year investigation concluded that Microsoft had taken advantage of its dominant position to damage rivals who offered server software and media player programs.

Forrester said Microsoft's server software was compatible with products made by other companies, such as those from Novell and Sun and using Linux and UNIX-based servers.

Microsoft executive John Shewchuk gave a presentation that showed the company's contention that server compatibility was a reality and worked with the Windows operating system, which runs on 95 percent of the world's personal computers.

"Microsoft spends an enormous amount of effort attempting to achieve interoperability," he said.

Lawyers for both Microsoft and the commission will expound on why the ruling should be lifted, or left unchanged, using evidence from IBM Corp., Novell Inc., Oracle Corp. and Sun Microsystems Inc. on systems compatibility.

None of those companies is currently involved in the legal battle, although they are members of two broad industry coalitions - the ECIS and the Software & Information Industry Association - that have backed the commission.

In a new complaint filed in February, ECIS said times have changed, but Microsoft's behavior has not. It claimed Microsoft is up to the same tricks - but on a wider scale.

Wednesday's focus differs from the first two days of the five-day hearings. On Tuesday, the company brushed off the claims that it tried to squeeze competitors, including RealNetworks Inc., out of the streaming media market.

Instead, it argued before the 13 judges of the Court of First Instance that it merely added extra functions to its operating systems to meet likely demand from consumers - part of a natural process of evolution in the technology sector.

While a court decision on the ruling is not due for months, a decision backing the commission could force Microsoft to change the way it does business in the future and endorse the EU's ability to hold back aggressive corporate behavior.

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