MS ANTITRUST: Microsoft settles Florida class suits

Microsoft Corp. has agreed to pay up to US$202 million to settle class action suits in Florida that accused it of violating the state’s antitrust and unfair competition laws by overcharging for its software.

The money will be distributed among consumers and businesses that bought Microsoft’s operating systems, productivity suite, spreadsheet or word processing software between Nov. 16, 1995, and Dec. 31, 2002, for use in Florida, the company said in a statement Tuesday.

The settlement was filed Tuesday in Miami-Dade Circuit Court and has been given preliminary approval by Judge Henry H. Hamage. A hearing for final approval of the deal was set for Nov. 24.

The terms require Microsoft to pay a maximum of US$202 million, to be distributed in the form of vouchers that can be used to buy a desktop, laptop or tablet computer from any manufacturer, running any operating system and software, the company said.

Microsoft will provide half of any settlement money that goes unclaimed to needy public schools in Florida in the form of vouchers. Those vouchers will also be good for computer equipment, software and training from any manufacturer, the company said. About 1,600 Florida schools will be eligible for the vouchers.

In January Microsoft settled class action lawsuits in California for US$1.1 billion in a similarly structured deal. Microsoft agreed to pay two-thirds of the unclaimed money in that case to California schools. The settlement took care of the lion’s share of the private antitrust cases pending against Microsoft, the company said at the time.

The private cases followed a federal court finding that Microsoft had abused its monopoly status in the desktop operating systems market to the detriment of consumers. A settlement in the federal case was reached late last year.

Bill Piotrowski, executive director of Technology & Information Services for Leon District Schools in Tallahassee, in a statement hailed the Florida deal as “great news for schools all across Florida.”

Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith said the settlement allows Microsoft to avoid “the cost and uncertainty of a lengthy trial” and focus on the future.

Separately Tuesday, a federal judge in Maryland rejected class action status for a group of consumer lawsuits lodged against Microsoft, arguing that it would be difficult to consider the consumers as a single class of plaintiffs.

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