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Microsoft settles California antitrust case

A judge granted final approval Wednesday in a $1.1 billion antitrust settlement between Microsoft Corp. and California consumers.

A judge granted final approval Wednesday in a $1.1 billion settlement between Microsoft Corp. and California consumers, who accused the software giant of violating state antitrust and unfair competition laws.

California Superior Court Judge Paul H. Alvarado said the settlement amounted to “fair, reasonable and adequate compensation” for more than 14 million eligible consumers.

In his order, Alvarado dismissed all objections to the settlement, which was reached in January 2003 — less than a month before the case was scheduled to go to court.

The settlement stems from a class-action lawsuit filed in 1999 on behalf of California consumers and businesses that bought Microsoft’s operating system, productivity suite, spreadsheet or word processing software between February 1995 and December 2001. (MSNBC is a Microsoft - NBC joint venture.)

According to the settlement, Microsoft must distribute up to $1.1 billion in the form of vouchers redeemable for computers and software products.

Similar class-action lawsuits were filed in at least 16 other states. They’re separate from the antitrust case Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft settled in 2002 with the Justice Department and several states.

The final cost of the settlement depends on the number of California consumers who file claims during a 75-day submission period. The earliest possible deadline that claim forms would be due is Sept. 14.

More than 600,000 consumers have filed claims so far, said Richard Grossman, lead attorney in the case.

Consumers and businesses may use the refund to purchase desktop, laptop or tablet computers that run on Microsoft Windows or any other operating system, including rivals from Apple Computer Inc. or Linux. They may purchase monitors, scanners, pointing devices, keyboards or software from any provider.

According to the settlement, two-thirds of any unclaimed portion of the settlement amount will go to California’s poorest schools in the form of software, hardware and money for technology programs.