The business world was abuzz yesterday with rumors that Salesforce (NYSE: CRM) has gone to antitrust authorities in the European Union with concerns about Microsoft’s (NASDAQ: MSFT) $26.2 billion acquisition of LinkedIn, reports the New York Times.
According to the New York Times, the antitrust concerns are focused on whether the deal would hinder access to the data collected by LinkedIn. Salesforce allegedly is concerned that Microsoft’s acquisition of LinkedIn would give it an unfair advantage over competitors by combining the strengths of Microsoft software services and LinkedIn’s data.
The comments are a response to a questionnaire sent by the European Commission that allows third-party companies, including competitors, to comment on pending takeovers. Though not addressing the Microsoft-LinkedIn acquisition specifically, Margrethe Vestager of Denmark, the region’s antitrust chief, spoke at a Big Data and Competition conference yesterday.
“We don’t just assume that holding a large amount of data lets you stop others competing,” Vestager said. “After all, it might not be difficult for other companies to get hold of the same data, by collecting it from their own users or even buying it in.”
She discussed the commission’s review of Google purchase of DoubleClick in 2008. The commission didn’t identify any concerns and approved the acquisition.
“But it’s possible that in other cases, data could be an important factor in how a merger affects competition. A company might even buy up a rival just to get hold of its data, even though it hasn’t yet managed to turn that data into money,” Vestager added. “We are therefore exploring whether we need to start looking at mergers with valuable data involved, even though the company that owns it doesn’t have a large turnover.”
In 2010, Microsoft purchased Yahoo’s search business, and rather than undermining the competition, the merger made the market more competitive.
“We’re not here to get in the way of innovative ideas,” Vestager said. “If companies need to collect large sets of data, or share data with their rivals to build better products, we don’t object to that. As long as they don’t hurt consumers in the process, by undermining competition.”
Brad Smith, Microsoft’s chief legal officer, said that the merger has already been approved in the United States, Canada and Brazil. They will likely submit the merger to the EU by early November. They hope to complete the process by year end.
“We’re committed to continuing to work to bring price competition to a CRM market in which Salesforce is the dominant participant charging customers higher prices today,” said Smith.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Salesforce had been in negotiations with LinkedIn this spring and reportedly would have bid “much higher” than Microsoft to acquire LinkedIn. Microsoft came out ahead in that bidding war, but not before Salesforce could drive up the selling price.
When the stakes are in the multi-billion dollar range, companies like Salesforce, MIcrosoft and LinkedIn don’t mess around. They are all trying to gain market share, and acquisitions can help companies grow. That certainly seems to be the direction that Microsoft is moving in.
Earlier this week we reported that LinkedIn was launching a new LinkedIn Learning subscription-based learning portal. That product stemmed from its own purchase of Lynda.com last year, but was likely moved along because of LinkedIn’s new relationship of Microsoft. We’ll be following the antitrust news and keep you posted on developments as they unfold.