California users eager to cash in on $1.1B Microsoft settlement

For some, the expense of documenting usage may outweigh any benefits

WASHINGTON -- California businesses stand to collect handsomely from Microsoft Corp.'s $1.1 billion class action antitrust settlement, if they can document ownership of eligible products.

The settlement, which received preliminary court approval last week, followed a class action suit alleging that Microsoft overcharged California customers (see story). The case was settled without admission of liability.

The plaintiffs' attorneys are finalizing claims forms that will make it possible for individual and enterprise volume license holders to collect. Eugene Crew, whose law firm, Townsend and Townsend and Crew LLP in San Francisco, is the lead counsel in the case, expects 80% of the eligible funds to go to businesses, with some collecting many thousands of dollars.

But the issue for IT managers is whether the potential benefit is worth the expense of digging out old records of, say, Windows 3.1 usage.

"It could well be that coming up with the documentation to get the voucher could cost them more than the voucher might be worth," said Rob Enderle, an analyst at Giga Information Group Inc. in Cambridge, Mass.

Rick Peltz, CIO at Marcus & Millichap Real Estate Investment Brokerage Co. in Encino, Calif., expects the settlement to yield about $18,000 for his company. Peltz said his record keeping is good and he will submit the necessary claim forms. "Times are hard, and budgets are tight," he said.

But Peltz's research into the potential settlement benefits came only after he was contacted by Computerworld for his comments. He said he believes many IT managers are unaware of the settlement.

"We have thousands of licenses that may be at stake, and we're very interested," said Greg Schueman, chief technology officer at Mercury Insurance Group in Brea, Calif. Fortunately, his 3,500-employee company has used the same desktop supplier for years, so getting the records will be relatively easy, he said.

But Microsoft may end up getting some settlement money back. Schueman said a likely use of the funds will be to buy upgrades of Office and other Microsoft software that may otherwise have been delayed.

According to Crew, business owners will have to provide license identification numbers, but the claim form will include a "help box" that, once checked, obligates Microsoft to search its licensing records.

Jim Desler, a Microsoft spokesman, confirmed that the company will provide assistance to the extent possible. "I can't say our records are completely comprehensive, but we have records, and if [businesses] check the help box, we will respond," he said.

Any of the $1.1 billion that goes unclaimed will be used to buy computer products and services for California public schools that serve a high percentage of students from underprivileged households. Legal costs weren't deducted from the settlement; Microsoft is paying those separately.



Where can I get a claim form?

The Microsoft settlement claim forms will be posted at

What products are eligible? Microsoft products licensed and purchased for use in California from Feb. 18, 1995, to Dec. 15, 2001.

Will Microsoft help me? Business users will be able to ask Microsoft to check its licensing records, but the company isn't guaranteeing that its records will be complete.

How much will Microsoft pay me? $16 for each copy of Windows or DOS; upgrades on the same machine are also eligible. $29 for Office, $5 for Word and $26 for Excel if purchased separately.

Will I get cash? No. The award is a voucher that can be used to purchase hardware or software from any vendor.

When does it end? The cutoff date for submitting claims will likely be mid-March, 2004.


Copyright © 2003 IDG Communications, Inc.

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