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Small MS class action to go ahead, unbound joy in Iowa

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What you might call a bijou class action lawsuitette is to go ahead in Iowa, following a ruling by the state Supreme Court that Microsoft could, after all, be sued for overcharging consumers in the state. The suit does not however amount to very many beans, judging by the plaintiff lawyers' estimate of the extent of devastation wreaked on Iowa by The Beast with Windows 98; this, they say, cost about $40 too much, and about 20,000 Iowans bought 98.

Which gives us a tab of $800,000, i.e. the equivalent of a rounding error in Redmond's vast war chest. Even if the courts of Iowa held Microsoft horribly liable for price gouging every OS since Windows 95 and added in punitive damages we would appear not to be talking massive dents in the corporate paint job here.

But the decision to allow the suit to go ahead does have some significance, in that after the verdict Microsoft escaped numerous class action suits on behalf of consumers on the basis that many states would only allow such suits in respect of software bought directly from the manufacturer. As most people will have bought Windows via a PC company or another intermediary, Microsoft couldn't be sued in those states.

The Iowa ruling however overturns the ruling of a lower court to this effect in August 2000, with a majority (5:2) holding that nothing in state law stopped such a suit going ahead. It may therefore be that the 'no indirect suits' position is less watertight than Microsoft would hope. ®

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