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Microsoft settles Mass. antitrust suit

Microsoft settled another of the pending state antitrust lawsuits against it, agreeing to give as much as $34 million in product vouchers to Massachusetts consumers.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Massachusetts consumers could receive as much as $34 million worth of computer products under a proposed settlement of a class-action lawsuit accusing Microsoft Corp. of violating the state’s antitrust laws.

Under a settlement announced Tuesday by Microsoft and the law firms that filed the complaint, Massachusetts would become the 12th state with which the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant has reached such an agreement. (MSNBC is a Microsoft - NBC joint venture.)

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 & Goldstein.

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

“We’re pleased with the dollar amount, when you consider the significant percentage of computer products purchases by business and government compared with the number of purchases by individuals,” she 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.

With this week’s settlements in Arizona and Massachusetts, 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.

The complaints are separate from a case brought against Microsoft by Massachusetts Attorney General Thomas Reilly and 18 other states, and settled in 2002.

Massachusetts did not accept the settlement and instead appealed, arguing that it was so profoundly flawed that it represented an abuse of the judge’s discretion.