Within the past two weeks, Microsoft - via its attorneys - has resurrected its campaign against vendors using NT or Windows NT in their names.
Microsoft has sent out an undisclosed number of cease-and-desist letters to third-party vendors. The missives "politely" request the vendors in question to remove any reference to NT or Windows NT in their company names, product names or Internet domain name addresses.
This move isn't new. In fact, a Microsoft spokesman saysthe company has sent out about 30 such letters since Windows NT started shipping. But the campaign has seemingly begun again after a respite.
Several of the recent third-party vendor recipients said they view the letter with surprise and dismay. None of the third parties would go on the record with their comments for fear of reprisal from Microsoft. But the vendors who were most upset were those that have been selling Windows NT products for two to three years and that had built up brand-name recognition and customer loyalty.
"Fortunately, my business is a four-month-old start-up, so we don't have too much to lose. And we've already thought up a new name - which I'm now in the process of trademarking - so this doesn't happen again," said one East Coast vendor.
Another Windows NT third party in the Southeast says he's busily looking for a new domain name for his Web page. "For some of us, it's an annoyance; for other third parties it could be a complete disaster because they'll have to start marketing their products from scratch. I expect to lose at least some of my recognition factor," he says.
"We're living in a society controlled by lawyers," quips another vendor. "I think it's a bit exaggerated. Microsoft says it wants to create a flourishing Windows NT third-party community. That may be, but this certainly doesn't support that."
Microsoft spokesman Mark Murray defends the action, saying there was nothing new or unusual about the cease-and-desist letter.
This type of letter "is common in trademark law, and it's not new. ... Whenever we learn about company, product or domain names that infringe upon the Windows NT trademark, we contact the businesses and ask them to stop," Murray says. Most companies readily agree to change the name, he adds.
Microsoft, Murray says, wants to encourage its third-party vendors, but without the proper guidelines, it can be confusing for customers to see the Windows NT trademark used by a company other than Microsoft itself.
"Users might think that if a third party is using the Windows NT name in their product, service or Internet domain name that it implies some sort of endorsement or relationship [with Microsoft] that doesn't exist," Murray says.
Microsoft, he adds, does encourage companies to make "fair referential use" of Microsoft's Windows NT name to identify products and has printed guidelines to explain and outline acceptable use of the name.
"We look at every instance on a case-by-case basis. And Microsoft does try and accommodate people and work with them to show them ways to change the name without compromising our trademark."
An acceptable example of the use of Windows NT in a product name that doesn't violate Microsoft's trademark is rival Novell's Novell Administrator for Windows NT, Murray says.
Murray says he does not know how much time Microsoft will allow the third-party vendors to find alternative names and stop using Windows NT. William Ferron, the attorney at Seed & Berry LLP in Seattle, Washington, who is handling the case, declined to comment or provide more specific details. "Microsoft doesn't like us talking to the press," Ferron said.