Microsoft settles North Carolina suit

Microsoft has agreed to establish a US$89 million fund to settle a class-action lawsuit in North Carolina, Microsoft said Monday.

The proposed settlement is similar in structure to settlements Microsoft reached in Montana, Florida and California, Microsoft spokesman Jim Desler said. The fund provides vouchers that can be used to buy computer-related products. Half of the value of any unclaimed vouchers will go to poor North Carolina schools, he said.

The plaintiffs had alleged that the software maker overcharged for its products and violated North Carolina antitrust and unfair competition laws.

Under the proposed settlement, North Carolina consumers who bought Microsoft software either preinstalled on a PC or off-the-shelf between Dec. 9, 1995 and Dec. 31, 2002, will be able to claim a voucher, said Reef Ivey, a partner at Shanahan Law Group, the law firm that represented the plaintiffs.

The value of the voucher will be $5 or $10, depending on the product bought, Ivey said. For individual consumers this may not be much, but for businesses with many PCs the vouchers could add up, he said.

The settlement proposal was presented to a judge on Friday. The judge has asked the parties involved some questions, including some specifically related to the money that could go to the schools, Ivey said. Another hearing will be held later this year. Ivey hopes the vouchers will be available by the end of the year.

The proposed North Carolina settlement is bigger than the $12.3 million Montana settlement announced in May, but much smaller than the $202 million Florida settlement and the $1.1 billion California settlement.

"Every state is going to be different; it is a function of population and what people buy. There are clearly more computers in use in California and New York then there are in North Carolina," Ivey said.

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