Microsoft is suing seven partners for reselling software intended for internal use only.

Declaring that the lawsuits will help protect its partners and consumers, it is the first time that Microsoft has taken legal action against companies in its Microsoft Action Pack Subscriptions (MAPS) programme. MAPS partners can buy Microsoftsoftware at a discounted price on the condition they don't sell it on.

The software giant has also filed three other suits against system builders for selling PCs with counterfeit Microsoft software installed on them, said Microsoft lawyer Matt Lundy.

The action is an effort to protect Microsoft partners that are abiding by the rules of their contracts and doing business fairly, said Microsoft system builder general manager John Bull. "We're all about trying to level the playing field for our partners who are doing the right thing and selling software in the right ways so they can compete and create a business that's lucrative for them," he said.

In the MAPS complaints, Microsoft is alleging the partners violated their contracts by selling software they received through the MAPS program on online auction sites. Some of the parties also deceived Microsoft by obtaining multiple MAPS in a single year when their contract mandates they can only obtain one per year, he said.

Microsoft learned of partners' alleged contract violations by monitoring MAPS program activity, Lundy added.

In the system builders' case, Microsoft had asked the companies named in the suits to "cease and desist" selling counterfeit software, he said. The company took legal action only after the partners continued what Microsoft believes to be illegal activity.

Microsoft is seeking several remedies in the cases, Lundy said. The company is asking for court orders to prohibit such conduct by the companies and individuals in the future, and also is asking the courts to impose fines based on the individual circumstances of each case, he said.

The lawsuits mark the latest of Microsoft's continued efforts to stop companies and individuals from pirating and counterfeiting its software products. In September, the company filed eight anti-piracy lawsuits against companies for allegedly distributing counterfeit software or copies that infringe on Microsoft trademarks or copyrights.