European Resellers Caught in Lindows vs. Windows Crossfire

By Joel Shore  |  Print this article Print


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Microsoft is putting European resellers in the middle of its trademark battles with Lindows, and in Sweden, Microsoft is winning.

Lindows isn't Windows. Apparently plain old folks don't know this, however, at least according to the City Court of Stockholm, Sweden. The court issued an injunction at Microsoft Corp.'s request on Dec. 10, barring San Diego-based Lindows.com Inc. from marketing its LindowsOS operating system in Sweden.

In its declaration, the City Court "prohibits, for the time until the case has finally settled or anything else has been decided, Lindows.com to use Lindows, Lindows.com and LindowsOS, as marks for products or services regarding operative systems."

The injunction is the latest salvo in an increasingly nasty war in which Microsoft appears determined to quash the Lindows name permanently. "What we're asking Lindows to do is to change its name," says Microsoft spokesman Jim Desler. "It is Lindows.com that put these [European] resellers in a compromising position by their deliberate infringement on our trademark."

Lindows.com Chief Executive Officer Michael Robertson isn't one bit happy. "It is another example of Microsoft attempting to eradicate all competition through any means," Robertson told a group of European resellers. "While they say they invite competition, behind the scenes they seem willing to take any actions—including blatant extortion—to squash competition."

In November, resellers in the Netherlands got tangled up in their own Lindows skirmish. They cried foul after receiving telephone calls from Microsoft allegedly threatening them with possible legal action if they continued to sell the maverick, Linux-based operating system.

On Nov. 25, Dutch reseller Hans de Vries, owner of DV Computer Systems, informed Robertson that Microsoft was about to drag his company into litigation against the Lindows name in the Netherlands. "What I understand from that phone call is that they want that I stop selling Lindows OS computers," de Vries wrote in an e-mail message.

"I don't like this but when they are taking this to court and involve me then I must stop selling Lindows OS because I don't have the money for lawyers," de Vries continued.

An angry Robertson branded the threats as "blatant extortion" and responded by jetting to Amsterdam, kicking off a weeklong trip designed to support international resellers of LindowsOS who have, according to a Lindows.com statement, "endured harassment from Microsoft."

Microsoft's tactics are not keeping Robertson from moving ahead with a new product. "We're now launching LindowsOS 4.5 in Europe as a show of support for our resellers, who Microsoft is threatening with legal action if they continue to sell Lindows.com products," says Robertson.

As for Microsoft's view of the operating system itself, Desler says there's no problem. "There are many Linux-based operating systems out there, and we don't have an issue with any of them. The only problem we have with Lindows is the name. This is a clear case of trademark infringement."

In the United States, however, that question has yet to be decided. On Dec. 20, 2001, Microsoft filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington against Lindows.com, alleging trademark infringement, trademark dilution, unfair competition and unfair business practices.

At that time, Microsoft requested a preliminary injunction enjoining Lindows.com from using the Lindows trademark "in the promotion, advertising, marketing, or sale of a software product in competition with Windows." Two subsequent rulings denied Microsoft's request for an injunction, and raised questions about whether the term "windows" is a protectable trademark. A jury trial to determine the trademark's validity is slated to begin in March 2004.

Robertson is no stranger to controversy: In 1997, he launched the digital music Web site MP3.com. Facing its own legal battles, the site was purchased by Vivendi Universal and, in November 2003, sold to CNET Networks Inc.

Veteran technology journalist Joel Shore is editor of Reference Guide, publishers of reviews and custom content for the technology industry. He co-founded and was the longtime director of the CRN Test Center.

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