Notes to Financial Statements

NOTE 14 — CONTINGENCIES

Patent and Intellectual Property Claims

There were 30 patent infringement cases pending against Microsoft as of December 31, 2018, none of which are material individually or in aggregate.

Antitrust, Unfair Competition, and Overcharge Class Actions

Antitrust and unfair competition class action lawsuits were filed against us in British Columbia, Ontario, and Quebec, Canada. All three have been certified on behalf of Canadian indirect purchasers who acquired licenses for Microsoft operating system software and/or productivity application software between 1998 and 2010.

The trial of the British Columbia action commenced in May 2016. Following a mediation, the parties agreed to a global settlement of all three Canadian actions, and submitted the proposed settlement agreement to the courts in all three jurisdictions for approval. The final settlement has been approved by the courts in British Columbia, Ontario, and Quebec, and the claims administration process will commence.

Other Antitrust Litigation and Claims

China State Administration for Industry and Commerce Investigation

In 2014, Microsoft was informed that China’s State Agency for Market Regulation (“SAMR”) (formerly State Administration for Industry and Commerce) had begun a formal investigation relating to China’s Anti-Monopoly Law, and the SAMR conducted onsite inspections of Microsoft offices in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Chengdu. In December 2018, the SAMR met with Microsoft representatives and presented their preliminary views as to certain possible violations of China’s Anti-Monopoly Law, to which they have invited Microsoft to respond. 

Product-Related Litigation

U.S. Cell Phone Litigation

Microsoft Mobile Oy, a subsidiary of Microsoft, along with other handset manufacturers and network operators, is a defendant in 40 lawsuits filed in the Superior Court for the District of Columbia by individual plaintiffs who allege that radio emissions from cellular handsets caused their brain tumors and other adverse health effects. We assumed responsibility for these claims in our agreement to acquire Nokia’s Devices and Services business and have been substituted for the Nokia defendants. Nine of these cases were filed in 2002 and are consolidated for certain pre-trial proceedings; the remaining cases are stayed. In a separate 2009 decision, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia held that adverse health effect claims arising from the use of cellular handsets that operate within the U.S. Federal Communications Commission radio frequency emission guidelines (“FCC Guidelines”) are pre-empted by federal law. The plaintiffs allege that their handsets either operated outside the FCC Guidelines or were manufactured before the FCC Guidelines went into effect. The lawsuits also allege an industry-wide conspiracy to manipulate the science and testing around emission guidelines.

In 2013, the defendants in the consolidated cases moved to exclude the plaintiffs’ expert evidence of general causation on the basis of flawed scientific methodologies. In 2014, the trial court granted in part and denied in part the defendants’ motion to exclude the plaintiffs’ general causation experts. The defendants filed an interlocutory appeal to the District of Columbia Court of Appeals challenging the standard for evaluating expert scientific evidence. In October 2016, the Court of Appeals issued its decision adopting the standard advocated by the defendants and remanding the cases to the trial court for further proceedings under that standard. The plaintiffs have filed supplemental expert evidence, portions of which the defendants have moved to strike. In August 2018, the trial court issued an order striking portions of the plaintiffs’ expert reports.

Canadian Cell Phone Class Action

Microsoft Mobile Oy, along with other handset manufacturers and network operators, is a defendant in a 2013 class action lawsuit filed in the Supreme Court of British Columbia by a purported class of Canadians who have used cellular phones for at least 1,600 hours, including a subclass of users with brain tumors, alleging adverse health effects from cellular phone use. Microsoft was served with the complaint in June 2014 and has been substituted for the Nokia defendants. The litigation has been dormant for more than three years.

Employment-Related Litigation

Moussouris v. Microsoft

Current and former female Microsoft employees in certain engineering and information technology roles brought this class action in federal court in Seattle in 2015, alleging systemic gender discrimination in pay and promotions. The plaintiffs moved to certify the class in October 2017. Microsoft filed an opposition in January 2018, attaching an expert report showing no statistically significant disparity in pay and promotions between similarly situated men and women. In June 2018, the court denied the plaintiffs’ motion for class certification. Plaintiffs sought an interlocutory appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which was granted in September 2018.

Other Contingencies

We also are subject to a variety of other claims and suits that arise from time to time in the ordinary course of our business. Although management currently believes that resolving claims against us, individually or in aggregate, will not have a material adverse impact on our consolidated financial statements, these matters are subject to inherent uncertainties and management’s view of these matters may change in the future.

As of December 31, 2018, we accrued aggregate legal liabilities of $273 million. While we intend to defend these matters vigorously, adverse outcomes that we estimate could reach approximately $1.0 billion in aggregate beyond recorded amounts are reasonably possible. Were unfavorable final outcomes to occur, there exists the possibility of a material adverse impact on our consolidated financial statements for the period in which the effects become reasonably estimable.