Microsoft Class-Action Trial Set To Begin In Minnesota

A group of consumers and businesses has charged Microsoft with monopolizing segments of the software market.
A class-action lawsuit against Microsoft is scheduled to go to trial on Wednesday, with lawyers on both sides preparing to make their opening arguments in a state court in Minnesota. The jury was picked last week.

A group of consumers and businesses has charged the software firm with monopolizing segments of the software market. These charges are somewhat duplicative of earlier cases against Microsoft. In those earlier cases, Microsoft settled in nine states for $1.5 billion; in 16 other states, cases were dismissed.

David Tulchin, of New York's Sullivan & Cromwell law firm, leads the Microsoft legal team. The class-action team is led by Richard Hagstrom, a Minnesota litigator. Both sides have predicted the trial will last several weeks--unless, of course, a settlement is reached.

The plaintiffs maintain that Microsoft overcharged nearly 10 million Minnesotans $425 million for software licenses from 1994 to 2001. Hagstrom has said he plans to use the federal antitrust case against Microsoft in the Minnesota case. In press reports, Tulchin has countered that the federal case covered just a brief period in the 1990s.

Tulchin has put Microsoft founder and chairman Bill Gates and the firm's current CEO Steve Ballmer on his witness list.

The plaintiffs charge that Microsoft monopolized its operating-system software and unlawfully tied Windows with Word, Excel, and Office programs. Depending on the product and the year involved, the overcharges ranged from $10 to $70 for each item, according to the plaintiff's charges.

Microsoft says it didn't overcharge anyone for anything. Tulchin is basing much of Microsoft's defense on its argument that the company invested hundreds of millions of dollars developing the software in question, yet it generally only charged $50 per user for the software, which was typically preinstalled on consumers' PCs.

The trial is being presided over by Judge Bruce Peterson of the Hennepin County District Court.

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