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 (, 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
    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
  • 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
    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.