The EU plans to grill Microsoft rivals about the $13 billion it’s throwing into OpenAI 

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Microsoft Corp.’s $13 billion investment into OpenAI Inc. is set to come under added scrutiny from European Union’s antitrust watchdogs, who are poised to quiz rivals about the AI firm’s exclusive use of Microsoft’s cloud technology.    

Margrethe Vestager, the bloc’s antitrust chief, announced Friday that the EU has ruled out an investigation under the EU’s merger rules into the deal. Instead, she announced that regulators are asking Microsoft’s rivals about the US company’s exclusivity clauses with OpenAI, and whether they might have a negative effect on competition. 

Bloomberg reported the news earlier.

As well as the focus on Microsoft, the EU will also circulate questions to the market on Google’s arrangement with Samsung Electronics Co. to pre-install its small model “Gemini nano” on certain devices. 

Vestager added in a speech that regulators are examining attempts by Big Tech to buy firms by way of mass hires. The EU preliminary step comes after the US Federal Trade Commission launched investigations into Microsoft’s hiring of Inflection staff. 

“We will make sure these practices don’t slip through our merger control rules if they basically lead to a concentration,” Vestager said. 

Under the terms of Microsoft’s arrangement with OpenAI, Microsoft’s Azure is the exclusive cloud provider for OpenAI — something that EU regulators want to examine more. 

Such preliminary questions from the EU can sometimes lead to formal investigations from the EU’s antitrust regulators. These probes — in the long run — can result in orders to change behavior and potential fines if watchdogs unearth evidence of abusive practices hampering fair competition. 

“We appreciate the European Commission’s thorough review and its conclusion that Microsoft’s investment and partnership with OpenAI does not give Microsoft control over the company,” Microsoft said. “We stand ready to respond to any additional questions the EC may have.”


The EU’s antitrust arm said in January it was reviewing whether Microsoft’s involvement with OpenAI should be vetted after a mutiny at the ChatGPT creator exposed deep ties between the two firms. 

The partnership first piqued the interest of regulators — including, as well as the EU, the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority and the US Federal Trade Commission — since a scandal embroiled the AI firm over the firing and subsequent rehiring of Sam Altman as chief of OpenAI late last year.

Microsoft Chief Executive Officer Satya Nadella personally helped negotiate and advocate for his return to the company — at one point offering to hire Altman himself, along with other employees at OpenAI who wanted to leave.

OpenAI’s board eventually agreed to reinstate Altman and the company then named a three-person interim board and added Microsoft as a non-voting observer.

That episode led regulators to examine the agreement. The UK watchdog said it would examine whether the balance of power between the two firms has fundamentally shifted to give one side more control or influence over the other, and the US Federal Trade Commission has made inquiries into the agreement.

At the core of the partnership between Microsoft and OpenAI is the massive amounts of computer power required to keep the worldwide boom in generative AI going. Running the systems behind tools such as ChatGPT and Google’s Bard has sent demand for cloud services and processing capacity soaring. OpenAI, for example, has become a major customer of Microsoft’s cloud business.

Under the EU’s merger rules, officials vet deals under strict time frames and often push for remedies to allay specific competition concerns. While deals are in rare cases vetoed, firms generally don’t face punishments unless they mislead regulators or stymie the process.

The EU’s classic competition law is generally used to home in on potentially anti-competitive agreements between firms and also cases where powerful players abuse their dominance. If wrongdoing is found, fines can rise to 10% of a company’s revenue.

Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft is no stranger to EU antitrust scrutiny and in previous decades fought a long battle with regulators over abuses linked to the market dominance of Windows. 

This week the EU accused the company of abusing its market power by bundling the Teams video-conferencing app to its other business software.

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