Microsoft/Iowa Class Action Suit Begins

   It's not getting a lot of press quite yet, but Microsoft's latest court battle--a class action civil case in which the software maker is painted as a "corporate bully" that uses illegal tactics to harm competition--is one of the few remaining in the wake of the company's epic US antitrust battle. The Iowa case is expected to be one of the longest-running legal battles in Iowa history.

Filed in 2000, the Iowa case alleges that Microsoft used anticompetitive practices to drive up prices and, ultimately, harm Iowa consumers, businesses, and nonprofit organizations. The plaintiffs collected more than 25 million pages of evidence over the past 6 years. "It's all about the evidence," plaintiff lawyer Roxanne Conlin said in an interview with the "Des Moines Register." "Microsoft did not come into Iowa and slap higher price tags on computers. Microsoft did anticompetitive things to people who were offering choices to consumers, and by doing that, it destroyed competition in this market."

In an interesting move, Microsoft lawyers in the case implicitly agreed with this assessment by noting that the company has since corrected all of the behavior that got it into trouble in the first place. "It's a different company today," a lawyer representing Microsoft in the trial said. Officially, however, Microsoft takes a much more somber stance. "Microsoft has built its business by offering high-quality software at a low cost so that millions of consumers could enjoy the benefits of personal computing," a company statement read. "We're confident the record will clearly show that Iowa consumers and businesses have received great value at a fair and reasonable price--products that enable them to communicate with family and friends, manage their businesses, and access the Internet to enrich their lives."

One bit of potential drama in the case has been eliminated, however. Originally, plaintiffs in the Iowa case had planned to call Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates and CEO Steve Ballmer to testify. But this week, they announced that they would not do so, although the defense plans to utilize both men later in 2007. Instead, the plaintiffs will play portions of Gates's unflattering 10-hour videotaped deposition from the US antitrust case. Iowa is seeking approximately $330 million in damages in the case.

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