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Gates on Witness List in Iowa Antitrust Suit

One of the last remaining consumer class-action antitrust lawsuits filed against Microsoft Corp. in a state court is set to go to trial in November, and Bill Gates is on the witness list.

One of the last remaining consumer class-action antitrust lawsuits filed against Microsoft Corp. in a state court is set to go to trial in November, and the company's co-founder and chairman is on the witness list to testify.

That doesn't mean Bill Gates will end up in the witness chair in Polk County District Court defending his company's business plan, but it's a possibility.

The lawsuit against Microsoft has made its way to the Iowa Supreme Court three times and unlike those in most states, which have been either settled or dismissed, it is scheduled for trial on Nov. 13.

Attorneys expect the trial to last six months.

Des Moines attorney Roxanne Conlin said Tuesday her experts have estimated that individuals and businesses have been overcharged as much as $453 million for Microsoft products in the last 12 years because a lack of competition has inflated the cost of the company's products.

In Iowa, about 5.1 million licenses for Microsoft Windows have been issued, 1.8 million for Office, 446,373 for Word and about 21,349 for Excel.

The average consumer overcharge ranges from $10.50 for buyers of Word to $56.99 to those who purchased Excel, Conlin said.

Many customers may have purchased more than one version in 12 years, Conlin said, so they could be eligible for multiples of those amounts.

Conlin said class members include all those who bought the following in Iowa from May 18, 1994, through June 30, 2006: Microsoft Windows, MS-DOS, Word, Excel, or Office software, or a personal computer on which this software was already installed.

"Class members do not have to do anything to be included in the class and there is no cost to be a member of the class," Conlin said.

Customers in Microsoft's database have been notified by mail or e-mail that they are part of the class-action case, Conlin said.

Microsoft denies that consumers were injured and said that computer users have benefited from the company's efforts to improve its products.

"The merits of the case will be determined in a lengthy trial that will begin in November," Microsoft attorney Rich Wallis said Tuesday. "We're looking forward to being in Iowa and having the opportunity to address these claims and defend our business model of selling high quality software at fair and reasonable prices."

One of the reasons Iowa continues to fight Microsoft in court is that Conlin has refused to accept a settlement in which Microsoft would offer vouchers for computer products.

"I don't think Iowans want coupons," she said. "I think if they were charged too much money and that's what a jury decides, then they should get their money back, not a coupon."

The case claims Microsoft violated Iowa's antitrust laws and harmed customers by illegally overcharging for its software, by denying class members free choice in software products and the benefits of software innovation, and by making computers increasingly susceptible to security breaches.

Microsoft initially faced 206 class-action lawsuits across the United States. The company said 108 were consolidated in a federal antitrust case and 96 remained in state courts.

Most were dismissed or settled for vouchers.

Cases in Iowa and Mississippi are among a handful that remain.

District court officials sent a court-ordered notice to known class members in Iowa by mail and e-mail, a required step in class-action cases.

Anyone in the class may chose to exclude themselves from the case but must do so by mail or e-mail by Nov. 13, Conlin said.

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