Microsoft Reaches Settlements In Mass., N.D. Antitrust Suits


Massachusetts consumers could receive as much as $34 million worth of computer products, while North Dakota consumers could get as much as $9 million in separate, proposed settlements of class-action lawsuits accusing Microsoft of violating each state's antitrust laws.

Under settlements approved Tuesday, Massachusetts and North Dakota would become the 11th and 12th states with which the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant has reached such an agreement.

The Massachusetts settlement, filed in Middlesex Superior Court, won preliminary approval from Superior Court Judge Judith Fabricant on Monday--the same day a judge in Arizona approved a similar settlement there that has a maximum value of $104.6 million.

The smaller value of Massachusetts' $34 million settlement reflects the fact that the state's consumer laws differ from those in Arizona and some other states, said Ann D. White, a lead co-counsel in the case from the firm Mager White and Goldstein.

Massachusetts' laws limit relief in such cases to individuals, with businesses and government excluded, White said.

The agreement will require Microsoft to provide vouchers to all class members in Massachusetts who bought Microsoft operating systems or software from Jan. 3, 1996 to Dec. 31, 2002.

Qualifying Massachusetts consumers will receive vouchers used to buy any manufacturer's desktop, laptop and tablet computers; any software available for sale to the public and used with those products; and specified accessories for use with computers.

The total amount of vouchers issued will depend on the number of class members claiming vouchers. The maximum that can be claimed is $34 million.

Under the settlement, Microsoft will give half the value of any unclaimed vouchers to Massachusetts' public schools. Those vouchers may be used to buy hardware, Microsoft software and non-Microsoft software, and professional development services.

The vouchers will go to those districts in which 50 percent or more of the students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches.

The North Dakota settlement is similar, involving vouchers for computer software and other products as compensation for people who allegedly paid higher prices because of Mircrosoft's business practices. Only about 500 customers have sought the vouchers since the preliminary settlement in November, but 43 school districts are expected to ultimately benefit. In ordering final approval of the settlement on Tuesday, Northeast Central District Judge Bruce Bohlman called the deal "fair and reasonable."

With this week's settlements, Microsoft has reached agreements resolving antitrust cases in a total of 12 states and the District of Columbia, Microsoft spokeswoman Stacey Drake said.

Earlier this month, a judge in Tennessee approved a $64 million state settlement. In April, the company settled a class-action case in Minnesota, interrupting a jury trial.

More than 100 cases filed in recent years have been consolidated to more than 30, with Microsoft prevailing in 18 of the cases and five still pending and without settlement in Iowa, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York and Wisconsin, Drake said.

AP reporter Dave Kolpack in Fargo, N.D., contributed to this report.

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