Microsoft and Apple give up their OpenAI board seats

Both companies are reportedly stepping back in the midst of EU antitrust scrutiny.


Microsoft has withdrawn from OpenAI's board of directors a couple of weeks after the European Commission revealed that it's taking another look at the terms of their partnership, according to the Financial Times. The company has reportedly sent OpenAI a letter, announcing that it was giving up its seat "effective immediately." Microsoft took on an observer, non-voting role within OpenAI's board following an internal upheaval that led to the firing (and eventual reinstatement) of the latter's CEO, Sam Altman.

According to previous reports, Apple was also supposed to get an observer seat at the board following its announcement that it will integrate ChatGPT into its devices. The Times says that will no longer be the case. Instead, OpenAI will take on a new approach and hold regular meetings with key partners, including the two Big Tech companies. In the letter, Microsoft reportedly told OpenAI that it's confident in the direction the company is taking, so its seat on the board is no longer necessary.

The company also wrote that its seat "provided insights into the board's activities without compromising its independence," but the European Commission wants to take a closer look at their relationship before deciding if it agrees. "We’re grateful to Microsoft for voicing confidence in the board and the direction of the company, and we look forward to continuing our successful partnership," an OpenAI spokesperson told The Times.

Microsoft initially invested $1 billion into OpenAI in 2019. Since then, the company has poured more money into the AI company until it has reached $13 billion in investments. The European Commission started investigating their partnership to figure out if it breaks the bloc's merger rules last year, but it ultimately concluded that Microsoft didn't gain control of OpenAI. It didn't drop the probe altogether, however — Margrethe Vestager, the commission's executive vice-president for competition policy, revealed in June that European authorities asked Microsoft for additional information regarding their agreement "to understand whether certain exclusivity clauses could have a negative effect on competitors."

The commission is looking into the Microsoft-OpenAI agreement as part of a bigger antitrust investigation. It also sent information requests to other big players in the industry that are also working on artificial intelligence technologies, including Meta, Google and TikTok. The commission intends to ensure fairness in consumer choices and to examine acqui-hires to "make sure these practices don’t slip through [its] merger control rules if they basically lead to a concentration."