Microsoft settles with Montana group

Microsoft and a group of Montana residents have settled a class-action antitrust lawsuit against the software giant, with US$12.3 million going to those who purchased Microsoft products during a six-year span.

In a settlement announced Monday, plaintiffs in the lawsuit will be able to use vouchers from Microsoft to buy computers and peripheral devices of any brand of their choosing. Microsoft will donate one-half of any unclaimed settlement proceeds to Montana's most needy public schools in the form of vouchers to purchase a wide range of hardware, software and professional development services, according to a press release from the company.

About 325 schools, serving nearly a quarter of all Montana students, will be eligible for the vouchers, according to Microsoft.

Under the settlement, preliminarily approved March 25 by the Montana First District Court, consumers who purchased a Microsoft operating system, productivity suite, spreadsheet or word processing software between March 28, 1996, and Aug. 31, 2002, for use in Montana will be eligible to apply for the vouchers. The plaintiffs had alleged that Microsoft violated Montana's antitrust and unfair competition laws.

Jennifer Hendricks, a lawyer with plaintiff's attorney Meloy Law Firm of Helena, Montana, said the settlement benefits Montana consumers and schools. Hendricks was pleased that customers who purchased a small number of Microsoft products will not have to produce receipts; instead they can fill out a claim form stating what product they purchased and where. Customers who purchased more than five Microsoft products during the six-year period will have to produce receipts, but there's no limit on the number of claims one person or business can make, Hendricks said.

"If everyone had to produce receipts, there would have been no claims," Hendricks added.

Hendricks also said the settlement was preferable to a drawn-out court battle. "It had been three years already, and it would've taken a lot longer before anything would've been settled in a court," she said.

Linda McCulloch, state superintendent of the Montana Office of Public Instruction, said in a statement the computers and software will be "put to good use in classrooms across Montana."

A Microsoft official said in a statement he also was happy with the settlement. "We're pleased by the opportunity to help schools all across Montana get the computers and software they need," said Brad Smith, general counsel for Microsoft. "This settlement allows us to focus on the future and building great software, and avoids the cost and uncertainty of litigation."

Microsoft continues to face several antitrust lawsuits, including class-action suits in 14 states and private antitrust lawsuits from Sun Microsystems and other companies. In addition, Massachusetts and West Virginia are appealing the settlement last year of a federal antitrust case against Microsoft.

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