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Californian MS overcharging class action gets go ahead

But actually, it could help Microsoft thin out its antagonists' ranks...

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A San Francisco judge has allowed the first class-action lawsuit on behalf of consumers to go ahead against Microsoft. Microsoft has so far successfully ducked a string of similar actions in other states, on the grounds that local laws only allow the immediate vendor to be sued (i.e. the dealer), but sooner or later one of them had to stick.

Judge Stuart R Pollack seems at least a little equivocal on the subject; earlier this month he said it would be difficult to prove that consumers had been harmed, but yesterday he opted for the class-action suit to go ahead in order to avoid "repetitious litigation." Which actually sounds like good news for Microsoft, as it perhaps signals the judge's belief that he can throttle a lot of Californian antitrust actions before they happen, simply by allowing this one.

The case covers copies of Windows, MS-DOS, Word and Excel sold in California since May 18th 1994.

Microsoft itself seems to have come up with a particularly impressive heroic failure in its efforts to stop the suit going ahead. According to Charles Casper, the company's attorney, it sells its products to all sorts of different companies who sell them on at all sorts of different prices (N.B., this is precisely the reverse of what we'd heard), and so the judge would have to consider each consumer's claim separately in order to assess damages.

How many million consumers would this cover? Doesn't this sound like it could be the case of the millennium for attorneys specialising in stalling tactics? ("Now we turn to exhibit 5,001,675, which is a receipt for MS-DOS 6.2, purchased by Mr. Otis Hooterschlacht in Newport Beach on August 10th 1994...")

Actually it sounds more like a profound and wilful misunderstanding of the purpose of class actions to us, but what do we know?

But the rejection of this bizarre argument, and the action going ahead, is probably more positive than negative for Microsoft. Where the state law permits, actions are clearly going to be allowed, and Microsoft also has pending a request to a federal judge in Baltimore to dismiss or consolidate 62 pending class actions. Dismissal ought to be asking to much, but consolidation makes sense - less hassle for Microsoft, sure, but if the plaintiffs all got together they'd be able to afford bigger tanks, so it'd probably be more fun. ®

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