US District Judge J. Frederick Motz ruled yesterday that more than 60 consumer lawsuits brought against Microsoft in the wake of the company's antitrust conviction can't be granted class-action status because determining what constitutes a typical group of buyers of Microsoft's software is impossible. The judge did, however, let a more limited lawsuit involving people who purchased Microsoft software directly from the company online continue. All these lawsuits allege that Microsoft overcharged consumers for Windows and Microsoft Office because of its monopoly position in the industry.
Predictably, Microsoft expressed its pleasure with the ruling. "This is a significant step in resolving a number of the legal issues facing the company," a Microsoft spokesperson said yesterday. The ruling will make it more difficult for consumers to extract huge cash rewards from Microsoft; the class-action status would have consolidated all the claims and potentially raised the eventual cash payout or settlement amount. However, Microsoft still faces serious legal challenges from Sun Microsystems and other competitors that the courts found were hurt by Microsoft's illegal behavior.
Attorneys for the consumers haven't decided yet whether they will appeal the decision. "We're considering our options," said Dan Small, a lawyer from Washington, DC, who represents one of the groups. The one group that Judge Motz did grant class-action status to involves just 26,000 plaintiffs who purchased Windows from shop.microsoft.com, an online shop Microsoft operates. This group is "significantly smaller" than the group represented by the other 60 or so lawsuits that weren't granted class-action status, Judge Motz noted in his ruling.