It was like a blast from the past this morning to wake up to news that Microsoft was back in court arguing over the $1.3 billion fine levied against the company in Europe more than three years ago.

It was also a head-scratcher because, after years of strife, the company and the European Commission seem to be getting along fairly well, having resolved a variety of cases meant to keep Microsoft from using the dominance of Windows to its advantage in browsers, servers and media players.

Turns out the appeal isn’t nearly as sweeping as it might appear on the surface. Here’s a statement provided to GeekWire by a Microsoft spokesman in Redmond, explaining the situation …

“The hearing today provides Microsoft with an opportunity to have the General Court review a fine imposed by a European Commission decision in February 2008. The fine related to the price Microsoft had proposed for one of several forms of licenses for the technology Microsoft was required to make available by the Commission’s 2004 Decision. This appeal is limited to this one narrow issue. Microsoft has been working in full cooperation with the Commission. In 2009 Microsoft offered an undertaking, which the Commission welcomed, related to interoperability with many Microsoft products.”

In basic terms, it appears to be about the principle and the precedent.

Even if Microsoft prevails, which is by no means assured, the narrow scope of the dispute means it’s possible that the fine could ultimately be reduced, as opposed to overturned completely.

At the same time, the case raises some important questions about the European Commission’s powers. Other companies involved in disputes with the commission — including Intel — are watching closely to see how the ruling could impact their cases.

For more background and details see this story by Bloomberg News.

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