Microsoft Corp. won some relief from its legal headaches with a U.S. federal judge’s decision Monday to throw out five consumer complaints filed in four states.
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Judge Frederick Motz, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, issued an order dismissing the complaints, filed in Oklahoma, Connecticut, Kentucky and Maryland. The lawsuits were filed on behalf of consumers who alleged that Microsoft’s monopoly power in the desktop operating system market forced them to pay too much for Windows.
Motz threw out the complaints, citing guidance from recent decisions by appeals courts in the relevant states that prevent “actions brought by indirect purchasers of licenses to Microsoft software.” Consumers typically buy Windows from indirect resellers such as retail stores.
Antitrust law regarding consumer liability varies from state to state, however. Motz’ decision comes after a US$1.1 billion settlement earlier this month in a California class-action antitrust suit that calls for Microsoft to offer vouchers, ranging in amount from US$4 to $29, to California customers of Microsoft software. [See, “Microsoft in $1.1 billion class settlement,” Jan. 10.]
Motz also presided over the California case, as private lawsuits filed by both businesses and consumers have been consolidated under his jurisdiction for legal expediency.
Microsoft’s legal problems related to private antitrust cases are far from over, however. Motz recently granted an injunction on behalf of Sun Microsystems Inc., requiring Microsoft to offer Sun’s Java to users purchasing Windows. Microsoft is appealing the decision, but whether or not an appeal is granted, it still faces a court battle in Sun’s suit, as well as cases brought by Be Inc., AOL Time Warner Inc., which owns Netscape Communications Corp., and Burst.com Inc. In addition, other consumer cases in various states are pending.
The private cases were filed in the wake of the government’s broad antitrust case. Though the government case was settled last year, two states involved in that suit, West Virginia and Massachusetts, are appealing the settlement.