Judge rejects class-action status for MS suit

A U.S. federal judge rejected class action status for a group of consumer lawsuits lodged against Microsoft Monday, saying that they were not representative of a single class of plaintiffs.

U.S. District Court Judge J. Frederick Motz of Maryland did rule a smaller group of plaintiffs to be "certifiable," however, possibly paving the way for the group to pursue their demands against the software maker.

"This is a significant step in resolving a number of legal issues we have," said Microsoft spokeswoman Stacy Drake.

All the consumer lawsuits allege that Microsoft used its monopoly in the software market to overprice its products. However, the various plaintiffs do not all represent a typical class of Microsoft customer, Motz ruled. Some of the plaintiffs had purchased the Windows operating system (OS) software from the company while others had purchased application software such as Microsoft Office.

In his ruling, Motz stated that the plaintiffs' assertion that an interrelationship between Microsoft's alleged monopolies in the OS and applications markets did not merit a combination of the two classes.

"The liability and damage issue presented by claims arising out of these separate markets are not the same, and the claims any plaintiff who has made a purchase in one of the markets cannot be said to be typical of the claims of a plaintiff who has made a purchase in one of the other markets," Motz wrote.

The ruling comes as at least a partial victory for Microsoft, which now does not have to face a potentially massive class action suit. The software giant still may face litigation from the smaller certified class of plaintiffs, however, which all purchased OS software from Microsoft's online shop.microsoft.com program.

Despite this, Drake downplayed the possibility of another suit, saying that the company believes that the facts will continue to show that Microsoft makes quality products at low prices.

The software maker settled an antitrust case with the U.S. government late last year, but still faces private litigation from competitors including Sun Microsystems. In addition West Virginia and Massachusetts have appealed the settlement with the government.

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