Judge Decertifies Class in ‘Vista Capable’ Suit

Just weeks before the trial on whether or not Microsoft tricked millions of customers into buying PCs incapable of running Windows Vista back in 2006, the judge Wednesday removed the plaintiff’s “class action” status.

The court stopped short, however, of dismissing the case altogether.

What the ruling means to the case – known as the “Vista Capable” lawsuit – at this point is unknown. However, a loss in a class action suit with potentially millions of class members could result in millions or even billions in damages.

Decertification of the case’s class action status means that Microsoft’s lawyers will face only the six current plaintiffs when it goes to trial on April 13. Others who believe they were bilked by Microsoft will have to sue the company on their own – as individuals.

“Approximately one year ago, this Court certified a class in this matter and allowed Plaintiffs to further develop their ‘price inflation’ theory,” federal judge Marsha Pechman said in her ruling. “It is now apparent that class treatment is no longer appropriate,” she continued.

Windows Vista was not available until the end of January 2007, so in order to not lose sales during the holiday sales season, the company and its hardware partners labeled PCs as “Vista Capable.” The plaintiffs argue that many consumers were tricked into buying PCs that were not capable of running higher end versions of Vista with its trademark Aero Glass user interface.

Among the reasons the judge cited for decertifying the case was that the plaintiffs’ expert witness, University of Washington economist Keith Leffler, performed a faulty analysis of the economic impact of Microsoft’s Vista Capable logo program, launched for the 2006 holiday season.

For instance, she faulted Leffler for estimating how much Microsoft might have made from sales of Windows XP units during the sales period, not just those that resulted from deceptive advertising.

“This analysis is too broad because it does not isolate the increased or sustained [Windows] XP license sales from those sales Defendant would have made without the Vista Capable program,” Pechman said.

A call made to the plaintiffs’ law firm was unsuccessful. A voice message was unreturned because the law office was closed for the day.

“We’re pleased that the court granted our motion to decertify the class, leaving only the claims of six individuals,” Microsoft spokesperson David Bowermaster said in a statement e-mailed to InternetNews.com. “We look forward to presenting our case to the jury, should the plaintiffs elect to pursue their individual claims.”

Judge Pechman did not simply let Microsoft off the hook, however. She did not grant Microsoft a so-called “summary judgment” in its request to dismiss the case outright.

Microsoft’s lawyers had asked for both the class decertification as well as outright dismissal in filings in November.

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