Justice Department Looking to Punch IBM's Card?
It has been nearly eight years since the U.S. Department of Justice agreed to dissolve its 1956 consent decree with IBM, lifting restrictions that had prevented the company from becoming a monopoly in the market for punch card tabulating and later, electronic data processing machines.
But perhaps those restrictions were better left in place. Because on Thursday, the DOJ opened a preliminary investigation into IBM’s business practices, seeking to determine if the company has abused its monopoly position in the mainframe market. The inquiry stems from a complaint filed by the Computer and Communications Industry Association that claims IBM (IBM) has undermined sales of competing mainframe hardware products by refusing to license its mainframe operating system and certain other intellectual property.
“IBM has used its power to resurrect and create a formidable set of barriers in the mainframe market by their misuse of intellectual property,” CCIA CEO Edward J. Black, told the New York Times. “Once IBM walls are taken down by the government enforcing the law, there will be a rush of people looking to get part of this marketplace.”
Perhaps. Certainly that’s not really the case now. As the CCIA and T3 Technologies–which filed an antitrust complaint against IBM in Europe earlier this year for similar reasons–would argue, IBM has essentially left the industry with a single mainframe vendor: itself. And if that sounds like an exaggeration, consider this: A few years back, a company called Platform Solutions attempted to license IBM’s mainframe software. IBM refused and then sued Platform, accusing it of a raft of IP-related violations. Platform countersued. And then, in 2008, IBM acquired the company and promptly shut down its operations.
“For decades, IBM licensed its system software and intellectual property to other computer manufacturers,” T3 president Steven Friedman said earlier this year. “However, for no reason other than to remove all competition from the mainframe market, IBM eliminated programs to allow customers to buy its mainframe software for use on non-IBM mainframe solutions….[Now] only IBM…offers IBM- compatible mainframes and, based on IDC reports, controls over 99% of all existing IBM-compatible mainframes in use today.”