Staff Writer, CNET News.com
The deadline is looming for companies and consumers who want a share of Microsoft's $1.1 billion settlement with California.
Claimants have until Jan. 8 to apply for an award arising from the state's class-action lawsuit, which said the company had overcharged customers for the Windows operating system.
So far, some 620,000 companies and consumers have filed a claim for part of the award, which was approved last year by the judge on the case, one of the lead attorneys on the case said on Wednesday.
Each claim is worth anywhere from $50 to several million dollars, said Richard Grossman, partner with Townsend and Townsend and Crew, the lead law firm in the lawsuit against Microsoft.
"What we do know is that over 80 percent of the major corporations in California have filed claims," Grossman said. "What we don't know is the total dollar amount of the claims."
The deadline, which has already been extended once, will mark the close of California's lawsuit with the software giant. The awards will be parceled out to claimants based on their purchase of Microsoft products between 1996 and 2001.
Consumers and corporations in California can qualify for vouchers ranging in value from $5 to $29. The vouchers give back $16 for each Microsoft Windows or MS-DOS license claimed, $29 for each Microsoft Office license claimed, $5 for each Microsoft Word, Home Essentials or Works Suite license claimed, and $26 for each Microsoft Excel license claimed, according to the class-action lawsuit's Web site.
"This applies for both for products that were preinstalled as well as free-standing software that you might have purchased separately," Grossman said.
The vouchers can be used to buy most hardware or software products from any manufacturer.California has not stopped at the billion-dollar settlement. Earlier this year, five state counties and two cities filed a class-action lawsuit against Microsoft, alleging that the company used its monopoly power to deny government agencies free choice in buying software products and to charge high prices. The legal action, filed by the city and county of San Francisco, complained that Microsoft's tactics caused harm to government users of its Windows operating system and Word and Excel software.
Other states have decided to take Microsoft to court in hopes of getting money back for their citizens. Microsoft settled a lawsuit with Minnesota in April, and the company settled with the consumers of North Carolina a year ago.
If the total claims applied for by Jan. 8 do not deplete the $1.1 billion award, Microsoft must pay two-thirds of the remaining amount as technology donations to needy schools. The company will keep the other third of the remaining amount.