Britain’s competition watchdog, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), has recently announced its intention to investigate the partnership between Microsoft, the US tech giant, and OpenAI, an artificial intelligence developer. The CMA aims to determine if this collaboration can be deemed a merger and assess its potential impact on competition in the UK. This inquiry comes after Microsoft’s appointment of a representative to OpenAI’s board in November. It is crucial to examine this partnership to ensure fair competition within the tech industry.

OpenAI, known for its groundbreaking work in the field of artificial intelligence, experienced internal turmoil when its CEO, Sam Altman, was dismissed by the board on November 17. However, due to significant pushback from staff and investors, Altman was quickly reinstated. Just days later, Microsoft appointed a representative to OpenAI’s board as an observer. This series of events has raised concerns and led to the CMA’s investigation.

The CMA is specifically interested in determining whether the Microsoft and OpenAI partnership constitutes a merger situation. The criteria for such a situation can include the acquisition of a minority shareholding or commercial arrangements like outsourcing. The CMA aims to evaluate the impact of this potential merger on competition in the UK, given the recent developments in this partnership. This investigation aligns with the CMA’s recognition of the opportunities and risks posed by the rapid development of AI in terms of competition and consumer protection.

Microsoft’s President, Brad Smith, clarified that the partnership with OpenAI has been instrumental in fostering innovation and competition in the AI sector since its inception in 2019. However, he emphasized that Microsoft’s involvement is significantly different from an acquisition, such as Google’s purchase of DeepMind in the UK. Smith reassured that Microsoft’s role is limited to having a non-voting observer on OpenAI’s board. This distinction is crucial to maintaining the independence of both companies.

Microsoft has expressed its commitment to collaborating with the CMA during the investigation and providing all necessary information. The company recognizes the importance of ensuring a fair and competitive environment within the tech industry. This collaboration reflects Microsoft’s dedication to transparency and compliance with regulatory bodies.

It is worth noting that the CMA has previously scrutinized Microsoft’s activities concerning competition. In October, the CMA approved Microsoft’s acquisition of Activision Blizzard, a major player in the gaming industry, after initially raising concerns about potential competition issues. This prior case demonstrates the CMA’s vigilance in maintaining fair competition practices.

The CMA’s investigation into the partnership between Microsoft and OpenAI highlights the need for close examination of collaborations in the tech industry. As AI continues to flourish, addressing potential competition concerns becomes increasingly important. Microsoft’s partnership with OpenAI, while different from an acquisition, warrants scrutiny to ensure a level playing field for all industry players in the UK market. Collaborating with the CMA, Microsoft aims to provide the necessary information to assess the impact of this partnership accurately. Through this investigation, the CMA aims to support sustained competition and consumer protection in the evolving AI sector.


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