updated 11:10 pm EST, Wed February 18, 2009
Vista Suit Denied Class
A late ruling has been made today in the lawsuit over Microsoft's allegedly misleading Vista Capable logo that may hand a win to Microsoft. District Court Judge Marsha Pechman has removed the class action status from the lawsuit under the claim that plaintiffs haven't demonstrated that a "specific shift" in demand was created for Windows Vista PCs by giving underperforming systems the logo; they therefore can't prove that Microsoft intended to mislead all PC buyers rather than just the individuals who began the suit.
University of Washington economics professor Dr. Leffler's testimony is cited as a particularly key example of the problem by Judge Pechman in a 17-page statement obtained by the Seattle Times. Instead of performing an analysis of the likely number of customers deceived by the low requirements for the Vista Capable sticker, the expert witness instead relied on Microsoft's internal goals and has inferred that Microsoft achieved its broader goal instead of providing research that backs the notion of widespread misinformation. The judge had estimated that more conclusive signs would have had Microsoft owe as much as $8.5 billion in damages under certain circumstances.
Judge Pechman also cites the absence of clear evidence that other factors didn't contribute to any increase in sales, such as discounted pricing or other promotional campaigns.
The lawsuit hasn't been dismissed outright and is ultimately credited with having particularly condemning evidence against Microsoft, such as internal company e-mail from then Windows chief Jim Allchin that showed a high-level awareness of the program's likelihood of misleading customers. Intel is known to have pressured Microsoft executives into dropping requirements for Vista Capable even though the software developer was aware it would result in sluggish performance and missing features. As such, Judge Pechman has tossed out a request by Microsoft for a summary judgment in its favor that would have dismissed the case in Microsoft's favor.
However, the removal of class action status greatly diminishes the likelihood of a formal start to the trial in April through its effect on the maximum damages. As most customers can at best claim damages based on the value of the Vista Capable PCs that were improperly bought, the total value of any successful case is unlikely to be higher than for the court costs, which may run into the tens of thousands of dollars.
Plaintiff attorney Jeffrey Thomas hasn't immediately signaled a withdrawal but notes that the legal team is "reviewing the options" before it considers either pushing ahead or else forfeiting the case.