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Microsoft has launched a stampede against solution providers who deal in counterfeit or infringing software by filing 20 lawsuits in 13 states.

As part of its Genuine Software Initiative, the software giant said the lawsuits are part of its three-pronged approach to help protect legitimate channel businesses. Software piracy in the United States accounted for losses of $7.3 billion in 2006, according analyst firm IDC.

Sharon Cates, an attorney for Microsoft, said in a statement: “This isn’t just about protecting Microsoft’s intellectual property. This is also about protecting consumers and the thousands of owners of small and large businesses and their employees who make up the software industry and depend on it for their livelihoods.”

Microsoft’s three-pronged approach to preventing piracy includes promoting education for consumers and partners, seeking engineering solutions to dissuade pirates, and taking enforcement actions to protect honest software vendors, the firm said.

Microsoft has spent many billions of dollars helping end users identify illegal software and has set up a Web site to teach users how to spot the differences between genuine and non-genuine software.

To go to Microsoft’s Web site and learn how to spot illegal software, click here.

“When consumers and businesses are looking for new computers and software, it is important to buy from reputable resellers,” said Larry Malashock, vice president of Software Plus, a large software reseller in St. Louis, in a statement. “Customers often don’t realize that these ‘too good to be true’ deals that they can get off the Internet or from non-reputable vendors don’t come with the right licensing or the services provided by the legitimate channel. Counterfeit software can include code that will end up hurting their computing environment.”