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April 19, 2004

Microsoft chalks up another settlement

Microsoft Corp and lawyers representing customers in the state of Minnesota have come to an agreement to settle their outstanding class-action antitrust lawsuit, bringing the jury trial to a halt, the parties jointly announced yesterday.

By CBR Staff Writer

The financial details of the case have not been disclosed yet. The court still needs to approve the settlement, in a hearing slated for early summer. Lawyers had reportedly been seeking damages around $500m.

For over a year, Microsoft has been getting its house in order, settling all the lawsuits brought about by its conduct during the 1990s and beyond. The state lawsuits alleged that the firm overcharged for Windows and Office software.

The company has previously settled private consumer class actions in 10 states, for a total maximum payout of about $1.54bn. The largest single settlement, worth up to $1.1bn, was the first, signed with attorneys in California in January 2003.

But Microsoft is unlikely to pay out the full settlement amount in any of the state suits. Class members will typically get vouchers worth between $5 and $29, if they hunt down the forms and apply to become a class member.

While enterprise buyers will likely apply, for residential users it may not be worth the effort. The settlement requires Microsoft to pay just half of all the unclaimed settlement value, in vouchers also, to public schools in poor areas of the respective state.

The company seems set on settling as many of its antitrust lawsuits as possible, along with a number of unrelated lawsuits, as long as the agreements do not place any overly burdensome restrictions on its future activities.

Sun Microsystems Inc and Netscape, via Time Warner Inc, have settled, as have the US government and all but one of the states attorneys general who kicked off the antitrust process with their suits relating the browser bundling.

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The firm could not reach a deal with the European Commission, which wants to place actual restrictions on Microsoft’s ability to behave anti-competitively in future. That case is destined for many years in European courts.

RealNetworks Inc is the last private corporate antitrust lawsuit outstanding, though recent comments from its CEO suggest a settlement is on the cards. Four more private consumer class actions have not yet been settled.

This article is based on material originally published by ComputerWire

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