Aiming to stop the diversion of software from education, software giant Microsoft Corp. has filed five lawsuits against U.S. companies and individuals, claiming they purchased deeply discounted Windows and Office software intended for use by students and sold it to retail customers at retail prices.

The company filed the suits April 2 in federal courts in California, Nevada, and Florida, alleging the parties infringed on Microsoft’s copyright by importing and distributing versions of Windows and Office that were not meant to be sold through the retail channel.

"The defendants in these lawsuits … are charged with profiting from selling clearly marked educational software to unsuspecting retail customers who were not licensed to use it–potentially depriving students and schools of the opportunity to benefit from the latest technologies," Bonnie MacNaughton, senior attorney at Microsoft, said in a statement.

Named in the lawsuits are EEE Business Inc., doing business as eBusZone.com; Eric Chan and Ruhui Li, both doing business as LCTech; and Intrax Group Inc. of California. Also named were Global Online Distribution LLC of Las Vegas and Big Boy Distribution of Florida.

"We’re not selling counterfeit or stolen software," said Mike Mak, owner of Intrax, which is based in Santa Clara, Calif. "We bought software from legitimate sources in the U.S."

Mak said his company sold the discounted "Student Media" software, but stopped after it learned about the lawsuit.

"When we sell it, we disclose exactly what it is to our customers. We tell them it is academic software, that it may require a separate license," Mak said. He said that as far as he’s concerned, that’s not illegal.

He added that it’s impossible for his business to sell boxed retail versions of Microsoft software and still make a profit. Instead, he said, "you try to seek out alternatives that are legal," including Student Media programs.

Dale Harelik, managing director of Global Online Distribution, said his company has never sold the discounted, students-only software. He said the company received a cease-and-desist letter from Microsoft in January, and that he spoke by phone with the software maker’s lawyers, who assured him Global Online Distribution was not a target of an ongoing investigation.

"We’re not the bad guys," Harelik said. "We agreed with Microsoft. We complied with Microsoft."

Lillian Shan, a manager at EEE Business, said the company had not seen the legal filings and did not want to comment without having reviewed them. Big Boy Distribution did not return a call for comment.

Microsoft has pinpointed a handful of companies, including one in Jordan and one in Latvia, as sources for the discounted Student Media software sold illegally on U.S. web sites, MacNaughton said in an interview April 2.

These education-only copies of Office and Windows, which universities around the world buy from academic resellers and offer to students at a fraction of the retail price, are a prime target for fraud, MacNaughton said, adding: "We knew we had to try to do something to maintain the integrity of our academic programs."

Microsoft also said that EDirect-Software.com, which it claimed was one of the largest sellers of the discounted student software, agreed to settle out of court for more than $1 million in cash and property. EDirectSoftware.com said it no longer sells Microsoft products and would not comment on the settlement.