updated 6/28/2004 8:19:18 PM ET 2004-06-29T00:19:18

An Arizona judge gave preliminary approval Monday to a proposed settlement for a class-action lawsuit accusing Microsoft Corp. of violating the state’s antitrust laws.

The settlement could have a maximum value of $104.6 million, an attorney for the plaintiffs said.

The deal will require Microsoft to provide vouchers to all class members in Arizona who bought Microsoft operating systems or software between January 1, 1996 and Dec. 31, 2002. (MSNBC is a Microsoft - NBC joint venture.)

Arizona consumers who qualify as members of the class will get vouchers worth $15 for operating systems and $9 for applications.

Under the settlement, Microsoft will give half of the unclaimed vouchers to Arizona’s public schools. If people claim vouchers but fail to use them, 50 percent of those unused vouchers also will go to the schools.

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

“We’re pleased by the opportunity to help schools all across Arizona get the computers and software they need,” Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith said.

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Michael O’Melia gave preliminary approval Monday. Notices will be published seeking members of the class before O’Melia holds a hearing Dec. 10, at which time he could give final approval.

Some 7.8 million Microsoft licenses, one for each product sold, comprise the class.

Plaintiffs’ lawyer Brian Goodwin said the settlement is significant because it established that consumers can bring antitrust actions under Arizona state law.

Microsoft has brokered similar settlements in antitrust cases in other states. Earlier this month, a judge in Tennessee approved a $64 million state settlement with Microsoft that gives residents a chance at $5 to $10 rebates on the purchase of new products. And in April, the company settled a class-action case in Minnesota, interrupting a jury trial.

Microsoft also has sought to settle private antitrust suits. In April, the company agreed to pay $440 million to InterTrust Technologies Corp. to settle a 3-year-old patent infringement lawsuit over technology for protecting music, movies and other digital content against piracy. Earlier this year, it also agreed to pay Sun Microsystems $1.6 billion to settle a private antitrust suit and resolve patent claims.

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