What’s In a Name?

James T. Berger headshot

James T. Berger
Senior Marketing Writer

Published August 10, 2005

Microsoft might very well have shot itself in the foot with the branding of its new Windows operating system. The code name for this product was “longhorn,.” But it recently announced its official brand name of the product is “Windows Vista.”

In addition to being highly unimaginable, the new name might very well nourish the intellectual property litigation appetites of lawyers and other computer-related companies with “Vista” as part of the name or brand. It really shows the incredible arrogance of Microsoft to select a brand name that is so common in the computer businesses.

Don Tennant, author of “Trademark Arrogance” in the August 1, 2005, issue of Computerworld, writes: “Microsoft’s announcement that its next version of Windows (you know the one code-named Longhorn) will be called ‘Windows Vista’ left a lot of people scratching their heads. Why call it Vista when there are already something on the order of 180 computer-related products with that name? Just because those products are not operating systems doesn’t mean there won’t be a lot of confusion and a lot of little guys who will have to suck it up because they don’t have the money to even think about standing up to Microsoft in a trademark infringement case.”

Tennant goes on to write: “As Microsoft lumbered unapologetically into the Vista valley last week, I couldn’t help but think about the case last year when the software giant decided to squash a 17-year-old Canadian name Mike Rowe. The kid dared to set up a Web site calleld mikerowesoft.com…and Microsoft went ballistic.”

Jason Cross, writing in the July 22, 2005, ExtremeTech.com, also didn’t care for the naming. “The name is lame,” writes Cross. “Vista? You mean like the Vista cruiser. That 70s Show jokes circulated in my inbox within minutes of the announcement.”

Cross goes on to point out how powerful is the naming of things. “A name alone can alter a person’s perception of something. Our current government knows this too well, which is why they renamed the Estate Tax to the Death Tax. And why the proposed changes that most environmentalists claim will dramatically weaken the Clean Air Act is called the ‘Clear Skies Initiative…”

Back to Microsoft, I was quoted in an Associated Press story by saying: “It seems like they were a little lax in their intellectual property due diligence – maybe because they are so big, maybe because they are so powerful, maybe because they feel they can do anything they want.”

An attorney, Mitch Reinis from Los Angeles, was quoted in the same AP article: “I would say that anyone holding a valid trademark in the computer field would have a valid shot of going after Microsoft here.”

One company that may be in for a rude awakening is Vista Software, a small company based in LaJolla, CA, which makes a database called Vista DB. Unfortunately for the LaJolla company, they didn’t bother to trademark its Vista brand but has been promoting the product for more than a year. Strictly by coincidence, Vista DB is designed to work only with the forthcoming Windows version. The CEO of Vista Software was enraptured by the Microsoft announcement. “It makes us look like geniuses, which we’re not.” He reported traffic on his company’s Web site quadruped the day of the Microsoft announcement. This simply is an example of the confusion Microsoft has caused.

The Vista Software CEO went on to tell the AP reporter. “It’s going to give us a lot of credibility and instantaneously gives us the marketing that we normally would not get.” My advice to that CEO is to hire a good intellectual property law firm because his honeymoon will end abruptly.

Another example of the height of arrogance that Microsoft showed with the product naming is that in Microsoft’s home town, Redmond, WA, there is a company called Vista, Inc., which markets business software and services. Its CEO John Wall told the AP that people have contacted his company’s sales department with inquiries about Window’s Vista. “It’s starting to disrupt our business. We do nothing with Windows,” he said.

As branding has taken on increased importance in business markets as well as consumer market, marketers jealously guard their brand names. There are thousands of intellectual property attorneys in the United States who are feasting on the protection of trademarks and other intellectual property rights. Microsoft’s egotistical selection of a commonly used name in the computer industry is akin to waving a red cape in front of a bull. There will be lots of business for Microsoft’s intellectual property law firm.

After all, as Shakespeare said it so well hundreds of years ago in “Romeo and Juliet”- “What’s in a name. That which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet?”

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About The Author

James T. Berger headshot
James T. Berger, Senior Marketing Writer of The Wiglaf Journal, through his Northbrook-based firm, James T. Berger/Market Strategies, offers a broad range of marketing communications, research and strategic planning consulting services. In addition, he provides expert services to intellectual property attorneys in the area of trademark infringement litigation. An adjunct professor of marketing at Roosevelt University, he previously has taught at Northwestern University, DePaul University, University of Illinois at Chicago and The Lake Forest Graduate School of Management. He holds degrees from the University of Michigan (BA), Northwestern University (MS) and the University of Chicago (MBA). Berger is an often-published free lance business writer who has developed more than 100 published articles in the last eight years. For more information, visit www.jamesberger.net or telephone him at (847) 328-9633.