SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Drug company Abbott Laboratories Inc. agreed Wednesday to pay between $10 million and $27.5 million to settle an antitrust lawsuit filed by AIDS patients over the company's 400 percent price hike of a popular HIV drug.

The ultimate payout depends on the resolution in an appeals court of three technical legal questions, Abbott spokeswoman Melissa Brotz said.

The settlement also needs to be approved by a federal judge in Oakland, where the lawsuit was set to go to trial next month.

The company, based in North Chicago, Ill., had faced as much as $1 billion in damages if the judge agreed with the patients' economic experts and found Abbott hiked the price of the drug to stifle competition.

Lawyers for the patients didn't immediately return telephone calls.

The drug, Norvir, is a key component in several important "cocktails" containing drugs made by rivals to treat the disease.

On Dec. 3, 2003, Abbott increased the price of Norvir's average daily cost per patient from $1.71 to $8.57, prompting cries of price gouging from the AIDS community.