The EU's decision on whether to suspend sanctions against Microsoft could come as soon as the middle of next month.

Bo Vesterdorf, president of the Court of First Instance, is due to rule whether to temporarily suspend sanctions imposed by the European Commission on Microsoft, pending the outcome of Microsoft's full legal challenge.

Vesterdorf heard representations from Microsoft, the European Commission and the two parties' supporters at a two-day hearing in Luxembourg last month.

Court officials said on Friday that the average time needed for the Court of First Instance to reach a verdict is typically six weeks after it holds a hearing, implying that a verdict can be expected around the middle of November.

Officials noted that the judge reached a verdict in six weeks on a similar case involving intellectual property issues concerning pharmaceutical company IMS Health. However, an official added that the judge called the Microsoft case "difficult". The official said that there are two issues at stake involving the effects of unbundling Windows Media Player and publishing the application programming interfaces for its network server software.

In March, the Commission ordered Microsoft to offer a version of Windows without its Media Player and publish APIs to open up the network server software market. Microsoft appealed the ruling but the full case could take up to five years to conclude. In the meantime, the software giant asked that the measures be suspended because they could cause "irreparable harm" to its brand image and business in the interim.

Meanwhile, Microsoft met with the Japanese Fair Trade Commission for the first time this morning since Microsoft rejected the JFTC's assertion that it had infringed on Japan's Anti-monopoly Act.

The JFTC said in July that certain provisions in licence agreements between Microsoft and Japanese PC vendors violate its Anti-monopoly Act. Microsoft rejected the charge, as it has previously done in the US and Europe. The provisions in question restrict possible legal action should licensees believe Microsoft is infringing on their patents.

The hearing lasted approximately one hour. Investigators from the JFTC listed the charges they have filed against Microsoft and why they believe the company broke Japanese law, said Takujiro Kono, deputy director of the JFTC's First Special Investigation Division.

The next hearing will take place on 20 December, when Microsoft is expected to request clarification on several points raised Monday, Kono said. "Today the Microsoft team said that the investigator's explanation on some things was unclear," Kono said. The JFTC will likely offer a fuller explanation on the issues in question at a third hearing, the date of which will be decided when the parties next meet, he said.

Microsoft dropped the provisions in question from new licenses on 21 February this year as a result of feedback from PC makers, but kept them in place on existing licences. Five days after they were dropped, the company's Tokyo headquarters was raided by the JFTC when it launched its investigation.