Microsoft Could Face Trademark Challenge Over 'Vista' Name

by Elizabeth Montalbano, IDG News Service

SAN FRANCISCO--The founder of a Redmond, Washington-based custom application and services provider is considering taking action to challenge Microsoft over the naming of the next version of the Windows operating system.

John Wall, chief executive officer of Vista, says his company is "considering all of its options" for a potential case against Microsoft because of the company's choice of the name "Windows Vista" for the version previously code-named Longhorn.

Wall says the naming of Windows may violate a trademark his company has, and potentially create confusion over the software and services Vista provides. Vista is headquartered just down the road from Microsoft and provides small businesses with online information systems, including custom applications, as well as with consulting services.

"If people call it Windows Vista, that's not a problem," he says. "If people call it 'Vista,' that confuses it with our business and what we do."

What's the Effect?

Wall says Vista will be analyzing traffic to its Web site to see what effect the "Windows Vista" name may have on visitors to the site. If the effect is significant -- that is, if a surge of visitors comes to looking for information about Windows Vista -- the company may decide to take legal actions over the trademark.

One of the key tests for whether a new trademark can be challenged is if it creates confusion over another company's products and services, says Bill Lozito, president of Strategic Name Development, a brand naming consultancy in Minneapolis.

Vista potentially has a good case against Microsoft because its software and services are similar to what the software giant offers, he says. Because Microsoft is a larger, more recognizable company, the name confusion might drive some of Vista's potential customers to Microsoft.

"The ramifications are [customers] no longer associate you as this independent company and think you're a part of Microsoft," Lozito says. "If they need the service you're providing, they'll call Microsoft instead of you. You're going to get drowned out."

The issue for Vista is particularly prickly because the company deals mainly in the small business market, a segment where Microsoft also figures prominently, he adds.

Other Vista Firms Out There

Wall's company is not the only one that might have a case against Microsoft in the naming of the next version of Windows. At least two other software companies, both named Vista Software, might have a good argument against Microsoft's using the Vista moniker, Lozito says.

"Anyone using that name that's doing business in this category runs the risk of being overshadowed by Microsoft Windows Vista," he says.

However, the presidents of the two companies called Vista Software, both of which provide add-on technology for Microsoft products, separately said their companies likely will benefit from Microsoft's choice of name for the next version of Windows because of their current affiliation with the Redmond, Washington-based company. The two companies are Vista Software of Tucson, Arizona, and Lorant's Vista Software in La Jolla, California.

A Microsoft product manager says his team came up with the name because it reflects the three main design principles of the next version of Windows, which is expected to be available in the last calendar quarter of 2006.

Greg Sullivan, group product manager with Microsoft's Windows client group, says Microsoft has focused on making the next version of Windows provide users with a higher level of confidence in the system; give them a clearer view of their information and files; and help them be more connected to other systems and other modes of communication. "When we take those all together, when I really think about my view into this world, my personal view of all this digital content, this is how we arrived at the name 'Vista,'" he says.

Microsoft plans to make the first beta of Windows Vista available August 3.

The Vista case is not the first time Microsoft has decided on a product name that conflicted with an existing trademark. In 1998, Microsoft paid Internet service provider Synet $5 million for the rights to the name "Internet Explorer" because the company had had that name trademarked since 1995.

Copyright 2005 PC World Communications, Inc.

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