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MS swats 38 antitrust suits

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Microsoft today escaped forking out wads of cash when a US judge dismissed damage claims against it in 38 class-action antitrust suits.

US District Judge J Frederick Motz said Microsoft could not be sued by consumers who did not buy Windows operating systems directly from the software giant.

He rejected arguments that punters who had bought Windows installed on computers or through retailers were direct purchasers because the licenses came from Microsoft.

The decision ditches the biggest block of consumer lawsuits against the software giant.

"Although the (licensing agreement) may establish a direct relationship between Microsoft and the consumer, that relationship is not sufficient to make the consumer a 'direct purchaser'," Motz ruled, Bloomberg reports.

Today's move harks back to a 1977 Supreme Court ruling regarding a case called the Illinois Brick. It was decided at the time that buyers could not claim damages for overcharges by antitrust violators unless they bought the product directly from the manufacturer.

Since then, the law has changed in 15 States to let buyers claim against indirect purchases. Motz's ruling does not affect 25 other class action lawsuits filed against Microsoft in states that allow claims by indirect buyers.

Meanwhile, the DOJ and 19 states which brought the anti-trust case against Microsoft today urged an appeals court to uphold the earlier decision that the company should be split in two. Two days of oral argument on the appeal are scheduled for February 26 and 27. ®

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