The war of words between Lindows.com Inc. and Microsoft Corp. this week escalated as the two companies disputed Lindows.coms efforts to process consumers claims in a $1.1 billion California class-action lawsuit settlement.
Lindows.com, in a letter released on Tuesday, vowed to fight any legal action taken by Microsoft to force the company to take down its MSfreePC.com Web site launched two weeks ago. A Microsoft official declined to say whether the company has taken or plans to take any legal action.
Through the site, consumers are prompted to answer a series of questions to see if they qualify for a portion of the settlement Microsoft reached in January in the California antitrust and unfair competition class actions against it. As part of the settlement, consumers who purchased Microsoft products between Feb. 18, 1995, and Dec. 15, 2001, can apply to receive vouchers for refunds on future purchases computer products and software after filling out a series of forms.
But Lindows.com has promised to automate the processing through the MSfreePC.com site. It offers consumers immediate access to the Lindows desktop Linux operating system and other software that competes with the Microsoft platform, if the users would qualify for vouchers worth between $50 and $100. Lindows.com also is offering a free network PC to the first 10,000 consumers who can buy $100 worth of software. Lindows.com, then, handles the processing of the formal settlement claim.
On Friday, an attorney representing Microsoft sent a letter to Lindows.com CEO Michael Robertson raising concerns that the site will lead to invalid and fraudulent claims and telling the company to either take down the site or address its concerns by Monday. Among the concerns was that the site doesnt provide a valid way for claimants to physically sign a claim form and that retailers and vendors cannot submit claims on a consumers behalf.
"Your Web site is deceptive, seriously mischaracterizes the settlement, misleads the public and encourages class members to submit improper fraudulent claims that will be denied by the Settlement Claims Administrator," wrote attorney Robert A. Rosenfeld of Heller, Ehrman, White & McAuliffe LLP, in San Francisco.
Robertson, in a Tuesday interview with eWeek.com, disputed those charges, saying they are "complete nonsense." He was particularly annoyed with assertions that digital signatures gathered on the Web site would be invalid.
"It is hypocritical for Microsoft to endorse digital transactions to bolster your business, but resist them whenever it may negatively impact your bottom line," Robertson wrote in his letter to Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates.
Robertson said the settlement does not bar such signatures and that federal law allows for electronic signatures. However, Rosenfeld in his letter representing Microsoft wrote that "the settlement requires all claimants print out, sign and mail their claim forms."
"If they want to take this court, we are happy to go to court to defend electronic signatures," Robertson said.
Attorneys representing the plaintiffs in the class actions have not taken a position in the dispute between Lindows.com and Microsoft. But lead counsel Richard Grossman of Townsend and Townsend and Crew LLP, in San Francisco, said he is worried that consumers could become confused and deterred from filing a claim because of the back-and-forth between two competitors. A court-sanctioned site was set up as part of the settlement to provide claim forms and settlement information.
"Our view is that any valid claim signed electronically or signed in ink will be honored," Grossman said. The settlement itself does not directly address electronic signatures, he said, but requires that consumers and businesses verify the truthfulness of information in their claims in a legally acceptable way.
Microsoft officials wouldnt offer any details on the companys next step.
"We will take whatever steps we think is appropriate but cant comment on any litigation strategy," said spokeswoman Stacy Drake.
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