Jury Selection Starts in Microsoft Antitrust in Iowa

Hundreds of potential jurors report for duty in Microsoft lawsuit.

(Des Moines, Iowa) Hundreds of Iowa residents were called to jury duty Monday to be considered for a panel that will determine whether Microsoft owes customers in the state millions of dollars.

Court officials called 469 potential jurors in an effort to find eight objective people to hear the complex lawsuit, which seeks up to $450 million for Iowans who have purchased the software maker's products since 1994. The case claims anticompetitive practices by Microsoft caused consumers to pay more for its products that they would have otherwise.

Microsoft, which denies any overpricing, says its products have been widely accepted by consumers because of their low cost and high quality.

Polk County District Judge Scott Rosenberg is presiding over the case, which could last as long as six months.

Jury selection is expected to take more than a week with opening arguments expected to begin after Thanksgiving, attorneys said.

Prospective jurors were asked to view a videotape outlining the responsibilities of jury duty and fill out a lengthy questionnaire designed to determine whether they had prejudices that might eliminate them from serving.

Roxanne Conlin, a Des Moines attorney and former U.S. Attorney, represents the defendants.

Microsoft is represented by a team of attorneys led by the company's corporate counsel including Richard Wallis and Steven Aeschbacher.

As the jury selection process was under way in one courtroom, attorneys for the company and the plaintiffs continued to argue last-minute motions before the judge in another.

Microsoft objected to Conlin's plans to refer to plaintiffs as Iowa consumers rather than a specific class of consumers because it's too broad a characterization and could prejudice the jury.

The company also sought to work out a witness schedule that would allow Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates and CEO Steve Ballmer to complete their testimony during one trip to Iowa. Attorneys expect each to be on the stand for about two days in January or February.

Conlin said her experts have estimated that individuals and businesses have been overcharged as much as $450 million for Microsoft products in the last 12 years because a lack of competition has inflated the cost of the company's products.

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 Microsoft Windows, MS-DOS, Word, Excel, or Office software, or a personal computer on which the software was already installed between May 18, 1994, through June 30, 2006.

Wallis has said the company is looking forward to "defending its business model of selling quality software at reasonable prices."

The lawsuit was originally filed in 2000, after federal antitrust actions against Microsoft were settled. It has already been before the Iowa Supreme Court three times on various legal issues and been sent back to Polk County District Court for trial.

The Iowa case is one a few remaining state antitrust cases against the Redmond, Wash.-based software manufacturer to make it to court.

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 before trial.