Microsoft softens tone on Doubleclick/Google deal

PARIS (Reuters) - Microsoft Corp softened its criticism of Google Inc’s planned $3.1 billion acquisition of online advertiser DoubleClick, which it had claimed earlier would give the search engine group a dominant position.

“The question is not for Microsoft to have specific views (on this deal) ... As in all markets, it is for the regulator to see if the competition is right,” Jean-Philippe Courtois, head of Microsoft International, told journalists in Paris on Tuesday.

Last week, Brad Smith, Microsoft's general counsel, said Google's GOOG.O deal would make the web search company "the overwhelmingly dominant pipeline for all forms of advertising" and it would be "bad for consumers."

Courtois on Tuesday said Microsoft was keen to take an active part in the $40 billion digital marketing market which he said, citing analysts, was forecast to double in three years.

He forecast the online advertising market was growing between 15 and 20 percent a year worldwide while the global advertising market gained only between 2 percent and 3 percent.

“We plan to participate in this big market,” Courtois said.

Microsoft recently bought DoubleClick’s competitor Aquantive for $6 billion, one of the largest deals in a recent wave of acquisitions in the sector.

Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer, who delivered a speech on innovation at the French parliament on Tuesday, declined to comment on whether the U.S. software group planned to appeal against a fine imposed by Brussels.

“We have nothing to say,” he told Reuters.

Last month, the European Union’s Court of First Instance in Luxembourg upheld a landmark 2004 European Commission decision and a 497 million euro fine against Microsoft for illegal business practices that violated antitrust law.

“We respect the decisions that have been taken by the European Commission,” Courtois would only add after Ballmer refused to comment.