Microsoft's antitrust trial in Minnesota finally opened yesterday with an attorney for the plaintiffs asserting that the case has ramifications far beyond that one state. "This is the most important antitrust case in the history of Minnesota and, as far as I am concerned, the history of this country," Attorney Gene Crew told jurors.
Microsoft, which is accused of overcharging Minnesota consumers for Windows, Microsoft Word, and Microsoft Excel, faces a class-action lawsuit that affects more than 1 million consumers. The company argues that it hasn't overcharged for its products, although a federal court found that Microsoft was able to price its products without regard to competition because of its monopoly ownership of the OS and office-productivity markets. "We didn't overcharge anyone," Microsoft Assistant General Counsel Steven Aeschbacher said, "and people got good value."
Describing Microsoft's alleged transgressions in Minnesota, Crew said that the software giant must be held liable for breaking the law. "Microsoft broke \[the\] rules of fair play," he said. "They broke the law. It's that simple." Crew is seeking $283 million to $425 million in damages for the plaintiffs, arguing that Microsoft bilked customers on almost 10 million software licenses sold between 1994 and 2001.
The Minnesota antitrust case is the first in which Microsoft has actually gone to trial, and the trial could last as long as 15 weeks. The company reached settlements in 10 other antitrust cases involving US states and the District of Columbia; the total settlement payout was more than $1.5 billion. Like the Minnesota case, each of those cases cropped up in the wake of Microsoft's historic US antitrust trial. Microsoft lost that case in 1999 but later engineered a weak settlement with the US government.