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Microsoft Vista May Face Trademark Trouble

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Microsoft Vista May Face Trademark Trouble

The Associated Press
Tuesday, July 26, 2005; 9:06 PM

SEATTLE -- There's a line of sewing machines, an elevator monitoring system, even a brand of detergent used to clean dairy equipment _ all bearing the brand name Vista. There are plenty of computer products that claim the Vista trademark, too.

So Microsoft Corp.'s choice of Vista as the name for the next version of its Windows operating system has some intellectual property experts wondering if a company that has been fiercely protective of its own trademarks will get hauled into court.

"It seems like they were a little lax in their intellectual property due diligence _ maybe because they're so big, maybe because they're so powerful, maybe because they feel they can do anything they want," said James T. Berger, a Chicago-area marketing communications consultant who teaches at Northwestern and Roosevelt universities.

Stacy Drake, a spokeswoman for the Redmond, Wash.-based software behemoth, said the company did its homework before it applied for a "Windows Vista" trademark in more than 100 countries.

So far, Drake said Microsoft has received no complaints since it announced last Friday that it was letting go of Longhorn, the product development code name for the oft-delayed Windows update due out next year.

Yet the CEO of Vista Inc., a business software and services company in Redmond, is already complaining that people have contacted his sales department with inquiries about Windows Vista.

"It's starting to disrupt our business," John Wall said. "We do nothing with Windows."

Wall said the company has not yet decided whether to pursue the matter in court.

Under trademark law, a company is generally in the clear as long as it doesn't pick a name for a product that might confuse consumers into mistaking that product for something made by another company.

For example, Microsoft is not in danger of getting sued by any of the various window manufacturers that sell products under some sort of Vista label, because people aren't likely to confuse plate glass with operating systems.

So far, no other company has trademarked an operating system under the name Vista, according to records at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and the International Register.

There are many software and computer products with that name, however _ 180 of them according to a search of active trademark records.

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