Microsoft prepares for Minnesota court case

Microsoft is preparing to go to court in Minnesota to fight allegations that it abused its Windows monopoly to overcharge...

Microsoft is preparing to go to court in Minnesota to fight allegations that it abused its Windows monopoly to overcharge customers in the state for its software.

Unless a last-minute settlement is reached between the software company and lawyers representing Minnesota consumers, opening arguments in the case are scheduled to begin the middle of the week, said Microsoft spokesman Jim Desler. The court has allotted three months for the trial.

The Minnesota case is one of four class-action lawsuits brought on behalf of consumers against Microsoft that the company has been unable to settle or get dismissed. Similar cases in Arizona, New Mexico and Iowa could also be heading for trial, Desler said.

"In other states we were able to reach settlements that were reasonable and we were simply not able to do that here and, therefore, are going to trial," Desler said of the Minnesota case.

"This is a case that deals with the question of whether or not Microsoft engaged in anti-competitive conduct and, if so, whether or not it overcharged customers."

In the settlements reached with lawyers representing consumers in states including California, Tennessee, North Dakota, South Dakota and Kansas, Microsoft agreed to make vouchers available to customers who bought Microsoft software during a specific time period. The vouchers can be used to buy computer software or hardware.

Microsoft has always denied any wrongdoing. In the Minnesota case it also maintained that it did not violate any laws. "We believe the plaintiffs' claims are wrong and based on unjustified calculations. We're confident in the merit of our positions and that the plaintiffs will not win their case," Desler said.

If the case goes ahead as planned, lawyers representing Minnesota software buyers will be the first to present their case. Microsoft is not expected to present its defence until April.

As part of its defense, Microsoft has compiled a list of witnesses, which include chairman and chief software architect Bill Gates and chief executive officer Steve Ballmer.

"Not all these witnesses will be called," Desler said. "The decision on who will be called will be made during the proceedings."

Joris Evers writes for IDG News Service

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