Lenovo ordered to pay €1920 for making French laptop buyer pay for Windows too

The court based its judgment on a European Union directive, which campaigners hope will make the ruling applicable elsewhere

A French laptop buyer has won a refund from Lenovo after a four-year legal battle over the cost of a Windows license he didn't want. The judgment could open the way for PC buyers elsewhere in Europe to obtain refunds for bundled software they don't want, French campaign group No More Racketware said Monday.

Stéphane Petrus bought a Lenovo 3000 N200 laptop from French retailer Cybertek in December 2007. The PC had Microsoft Windows Vista and other software installed on it, none of which Petrus wanted, so he sought a refund from Lenovo under a French law forbidding the sale of one product to be tied to the sale of another. In November 2008, the court rejected his request, telling him that if he didn't want to pay for the copy of Windows, he should have returned the PC.

The judgment was overturned by the Court of Cassation two years later on appeal, and sent back to the court in Aix en Provence for retrial, on the grounds that the lower court had not considered whether the case was covered by the provisions of the 2005 European Union directive on unfair commercial practices.

After reconsidering the case, on Jan. 9, Judge Jean-Marie Dubouloz ordered Lenovo to pay Petrus legal costs of €1,000 (around US$1,300), damages of €800 and to refund the cost of the Windows license. Petrus had estimated the cost of the software at €404.81, but the court found that excessive, given that he had paid €597 for the PC and software together. Observing that "it is commonly accepted that the price of a piece of software represents 10 percent to 25 percent of the price of a computer," the court ordered Lenovo to reimburse Petrus €120 for the software.

The campaign group No More Racketware welcomed the ruling, saying it symbolized the crumbling of the bundling of hardware and software in France. But more significantly, the group said, the ruling was founded on a European directive regulating unfair commercial practices, opening up the possibility that it could set a legal precedent in other E.U. countries too.

Frédéric Cuif, attorney for Petrus, wrote in a blog posting that the ruling was a step in the right direction, although he would have appreciated something less terse.

No More Racketware is not the only group campaigning against illegal software bundling: Consumer group UFC-Que Choisir has been fighting similar actions for years. A case pitting Que Choisir against Hewlett-Packard and retailer Darty in 2008 returned to the courts last year with a win, on appeal, for Que Choisir.

Peter Sayer covers open source software, European intellectual property legislation and general technology breaking news for IDG News Service. Send comments and news tips to Peter at peter_sayer@idg.com.

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