March 18, 2002 10:45 AM PST

Microsoft's claim to 'Windows' doubted

Microsoft suffered a minor legal setback Friday when a federal judge questioned the software giant's claim on the word "Windows."

In December, Microsoft sued operating-system maker Lindows.com, claiming the 6-month-old company was illegally taking advantage of its Windows trademark and potentially confusing customers.

However, in a preliminary ruling issued late Friday, U.S. District Judge John Coughenour said the suit raised "serious questions" about whether the word "Windows" is entitled to trademark protection.

"Although Lindows.com certainly made a conscious decision to play with fire by choosing a product and company name that differs by only one letter from the world's leading computer software program," Coughenour wrote, "one could just as easily conclude that in 1983 Microsoft made an equally risky decision to name its product after a term commonly used in the trade to indicate the windowing capability of a GUI (graphical user interface)."

The judge also refused Microsoft's request to immediately shut down the Lindows site and stop the smaller company from using the word "Lindows." Instead, those issues may be decided at trial.

San Diego-based Lindows.com, which is headed by former MP3.com CEO Michael Robertson, is developing a Linux-based operating system that runs Windows-based programs.

"We're obviously satisfied with the court's ruling," Robertson said in a statement. "Our hope is that we can move beyond the courtroom and focus on our goal of bringing choice back to the PC business."

Microsoft said it would continue to defend what it called "one of the most recognizable brands in the world."

"We are disappointed with the ruling, but we intend to pursue our claim in order to protect the Windows trademark," Microsoft spokesman Jon Murchinson said.

 

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