Thousands of companies and California residents will turn their backs on a share of the $1.1 billion antitrust settlement against Microsoft Corp. if they dont file simple claim forms by the Jan. 8, 2005 deadline.
Last month the California Superior Court signed an order extending the deadline to Jan. 8 to give consumers more time to file claims. Consumers shouldnt expect that the court will extend the deadline again, said Richard Grossman, a lawyer with the San Francisco law firm of Townsend and Townsend and Crew, which was the lead counsel in the class action antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft.
The lawsuit charged that Microsoft used monopoly power to overcharge consumers and businesses for key software applications that they ran on desktop computers. Microsoft signed the settlement in 2003.
"The claim period has been open for well over a year and it is time to wrap this up," Grossman said. "Claims are coming in from across the state, including claims from the largest corporations to individual consumers," he said. However, to date only about 620,000 claim forms have been filed with the settlement administrators, he noted.
Many of these claims are from large corporations claiming compensation for their purchases of thousands of Microsoft software packages or Microsoft applications shipped installed on thousands of desktop PCs. These companies could recover hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars in compensation for the software purchases.
But even individuals stand to receive between $50 to $150 if they bought Microsoft applications or a PC loaded with Microsoft software between Feb. 18, 1995 and Dec. 15, 2001, according to Grossman.
The reason so few individuals have filed claims may be because they dont realize how simple the claim process is, Grossman said. People can obtain claim forms by visiting the settlement Web site or by calling 800-960-5660, he said.
Claimants will find answers to most questions about the settlement and about making claims at the site. They can either print claim forms from the site or request them by mail.
Individuals dont have to provide extensive documentation or receipts to prove the claim is valid if they are seeking compensation for fewer than five computers preinstalled with Windows or five eligible Microsoft software packages, Grossman said. They can simply list the products that they purchased during the seven-year time period and sign the forms "with no other proof of purchase other than that you swear that you bought these products," he said.
Two-thirds of any unclaimed settlement funds will go to California schools and qualified charities, according to Grossman. The funds "will go to the neediest California schools for a whole range of technology support," Grossman said. This will include desktop computers, laptops or peripherals such as printers, scanners or keyboards, he said.
Individuals and businesses can also choose to donate their settlement funds to schools and charities, he said.
The remaining one-third will be retained by Microsoft. The settlement didnt require Microsoft to place the $1.1 billion in an escrow fund. "We think they are good for it," Grossman said, so Microsoft will only pay the claims as they are received and validated, he said.
Schools and businesses can use the settlement proceeds to buy whatever hardware and software they want, whether its Apple Computer Inc. hardware or Linux software, as long it runs on some type of desktop or laptop computer, Grossman noted. It can also be used to buy new Microsoft applications, for that matter, he said.
"The point of this lawsuit was to provide consumers with greater choice and that was the idea behind this settlement," he said. It also "provided software companies with an opportunity to compete against Microsoft using Microsofts own money," he said.