As you may remember, shortly after Microsoft announced that the name of their new operating system would be "Windows Vista," an article in the Seattle Times indicated that John Wall, who founded a business software and services company in 1999 called Vista (www.vista.com), was investigating whether the name Microsoft chose for their new operating system violated the trademark his company has held for six years.
While John Wall's company may have been one of the first businesses to be recognized by the media as having a potential beef with Microsoft over the "Vista" name, it's not the only company with an investment in that very same name. In fact, there are a number of other technology companies that have product names or company names that include the word "Vista." There are also a number of non-technology related businesses with product and company names that use the word "Vista."
Keep in mind that under trademark law, a company choosing a similar name for a product usually won't encounter any legal problems as long as the product name doesn't cause confusion over another company's products, i.e. the similar name won't confuse consumers into mistaking one product for something made by another company. And since Microsoft is using the word "Vista" paired with its "Windows" trademark to form Windows Vista, which the company has filed for trademark protection, it's unlikely that we'll ever hear of a major lawsuit over the Vista name. Even so, it's interesting to take a look around at some of these other products and companies with a connection to the name "Vista." Here are a few:
- Vista Software is a privately owned California Corporation that specializes in developing high-performance database engines for professional software programmers, consultants and organizations. Its forthcoming product is called Vista DB and is designed to work with Microsoft's new operating system.
- Vista Software (different url) is a privately held Arizona company that makes task automation software tools for IT administrators and software developers. Its main product is called VistaTask.
- MontaVista Software is a privately held California company that is a Linux-based open source software solutions provider for the embedded systems market. The company's Linux software products all carry the MontaVista name.
- The VistA Software Alliance is a non-profit trade association, based in Maryland, which promotes an electronic health record system for healthcare organizations called VistA.
- Garmin International Inc. makes a very small GPS device called the eTrex Vista.
- The Vista Window Company would probably have the best case against Windows Vista if it weren't for the fact that this Ohio company actually makes windows.
Keep in mind that this is only a partial list of products that use the Vista name; according to an article on MSNBC, a search of the active trademark records showed almost 180 products. It's very unlikely that we'll see any of these companies stand up to Microsoft.
However, that wasn't always the case. Back in 1995 software developer DhirenRana sued Microsoft for trademark infringement a few months after Microsoft began marketing its new browser under the name Internet Explorer. In that case, Microsoft was definitely on the losing side and ended up paying $5 million for rights to the name. For more details of this event, see the CNET article Microsoft settles trademark case.
Now, if the shoe were on the other foot, you can bet that we would be hearing all kinds of lawyerspeak from Microsoft's bevy of suits.
- Back in January 2004 Microsoft had its lawyers go after a 17-year-old Canadian high-school student named Mike Rowe, who ran a small Web site design business, and demanded that he hand over of his Internet domain MikeRoweSoft.com. Mike did just that. For more details of this event, see the CNET article MikeRoweSoft settles for an Xbox.
- In April 2004, Microsoft went after Linux operating system company called Lindows, claiming that the Lindows name has purposefully chosen by the company to mislead consumers and infringed on Microsoft's Windows trademark. The company eventually changed the name of its product and company to Linspire. For more details of this event, see the CNET article Looking for Lindows? Try Linspire.
- In 1997, Microsoft attempted to claim a trademark on the "NT" name and tried to force several big companies stop using the initials NT in their product names. For more details of this event, see the CNET article MS claims trademark on "NT"
I know that there are more Vista products and more Microsoft lawsuit stories out there. If you know of any that you'd like to share, please take a moment to drop by the Discussion area and let us hear.
Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.