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Microsoft settles another antitrust case

The software company reaches a deal with North Carolina, as it works toward putting an end to its ledger of class-action lawsuits.

Tech Industry
Microsoft reached a settlement with consumers from the state of North Carolina as it continues to work toward putting an end to its ledger of class-action lawsuits, the company said Thursday.

The suit accused Microsoft of violating the state's antitrust laws through anticompetitive business practices.

The news follows last week's announcement that Microsoft neared settlements totaling approximately $200 million in six class-action lawsuits--including North Carolina's--involving antitrust claims and product pricing. A total of 10 such suits have now been settled, leaving five still in the courts.

Microsoft said it has successfully derailed class-action lawsuits in 17 states, either by having them dismissed or by convincing courts to deny class certification.

The North Carolina settlement deal follows the terms of a $1.1 billion settlement the company reached with the state of California in July.

Under these terms, Microsoft will distribute vouchers that can be redeemed for various technology products to the individuals who bring the class-action lawsuit. The company said the vouchers can be used to pay for PCs, related software and certain peripherals, made by any manufacturer. The North Carolina settlement will be worth roughly $89 million if all the members of the class-action suit claim their vouchers.

The agreement had received preliminary approval from North Carolina's business courts last week.

Details of the settlement specify that consumers who indirectly purchased certain Microsoft software between Dec. 9, 1995 and Dec. 31, 2002, while residing in the state, would be eligible to apply for the vouchers.

Microsoft will also pay half the value of any unclaimed vouchers to North Carolina's public schools in the form of coupons that may be used to purchase hardware, software and professional development services. The company will pay half the value of any unredeemed vouchers to the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. The involved parties estimate that approximately 1,000 schools, or just less than 50 percent of all elementary and secondary schools in the state, will be eligible for assistance under the settlement.

"Depending upon the degree to which the class members exercise their options under the settlement, the (number of vouchers received by schools) could be substantial," Dr. Bob Bellamy, associate state superintendent and chief technical officer of North Carolina Schools said in a statement. "We are committed to using those funds to enhance the technology resources available to the neediest North Carolina public schools."

Microsoft representatives said reaching the agreement would allow the company to focus on moving forward with its products and help reduce the company's massive legal fees.

In related news, a federal appeals court on Tuesday reviewed the long-running antitrust case, which may be nearing an end after six years of injunctions, hearings and testimony. The six judges involved in the suit did not say whether they would approve a trial judge's order or toss out the Microsoft case in favor of proposed harsher remedies.

The judges did, however, sharply question claims that the lower court's decision did not adequately protect consumers from future anticompetitive actions by the world's largest software maker.

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