December 26, 2000, 1:45 PM — WASHINGTON -- A California judge has ruled that a class-action suit filed on behalf of consumers against Microsoft can proceed to trial. The suit alleges that Microsoft's monopoly in the desktop software market harmed California consumers.
San Francisco Superior Court Judge Stuart R. Pollak late Tuesday ruled that the suit could proceed. Attorneys representing Microsoft and the plaintiffs will meet with Pollak on Oct. 4 for a status conference, but the trial will not begin until March 2002.
Richard Grossman, a lawyer with Townsend & Townsend & Crew, a San Francisco-based law firm, said millions of California consumers overpaid Microsoft, and Pollak's decision to allow the suit to go ahead is a major step toward gaining a remedy for them.
"We have not calculated the precise amount that consumers overpaid, but it's expected to be in the many hundreds of millions if not billions of [U.S.] dollars," Grossman said in a telephone interview Wednesday. The overcharge will be calculated based on intensive studies by expert economists in the antitrust field, he added.
Microsoft's Windows and MS-DOS operating systems software and the company's Word and Excel applications purchased after May 18, 1994, are the products at issue in the case.
Microsoft spokesman Jim Cullinan Wednesday said Pollak's decision was just one step in a long process.
"Given California law, yesterday's ruling was not unexpected," Cullinan said. "The ruling focuses not on the merits [of the case] but on the issue of class certification. We believe when you look at the merits, the actions that have been challenged will be seen as having been good for consumers."
Cullinan also noted that the case has been filed by plaintiff attorneys, not consumers themselves.
More than 130 private, class-action antitrust suits have been filed across the U.S. against Microsoft, all seeking damages from the company for what the plaintiffs claim are inflated prices charged for its products.
Earlier this month, Microsoft filed a motion for the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland to dismiss more than half of 62 private, class-action antitrust lawsuits that have been consolidated and placed under the court's review.
Judges elsewhere in the United States have already dismissed a number of private antitrust lawsuits against Microsoft in U.S. states, including Oregon and Nevada.