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MS loses Korean action over Windows trademark

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Microsoft has lost an attempt to get a 1980 Korean trademark for "Window" overturned in the Patent Court after the Supreme Court ordered a re-trial last May. The trademark is held by diary and stationery producer Yangji Total Stationery Co of Seoul. The company has a turnover of $36 million, is the country's largest diary producer, and has the Window diary concession for 2002 World Cup merchandise. Microsoft challenged the trademark in 1993, and offered a paltry $1,000 for it in 1996, but to no avail. Microsoft may now find itself faced with a damages suit, and may have to stop using the name Windows in South Korea. It has been a long slog for Kim Yong Se, the president of Yangji, who has a trademark for Window in both English and Korean script. Microsoft had a very relaxed attitude to trademarks in the early days, and did not get a trademark on Windows in the US until 1994. Last time we checked in the UK, Microsoft's application was mired and looked unlikely to succeed. The problems that Microsoft encountered in Korea were that the prior trademark was both earlier and not used in bad faith, so the 1998 Trademark Act provided no help, nor did the Korean Industrial Property Office rules that allowed the expeditious handling of cases when requested by a foreign government. It would be hard to imagine the US PTO offering a similar courtesy to a foreign government request. To make matters worse, according to JoongAng Iibo News, the president of Microsoft Korea was "forced to resign" last year because his handling of the local company's affairs. Steve Ballmer was reported to be "quite angry", allegedly because the former president did not handle adroitly the anti-dumping investigation by the Korean Fair Trade Commission, the failed takeover of Hangul and Computer Co, and the "unfairly higher" pricing of Windows 98, compared with that in other Asian countries - or, it seems, the Windows trademark matter. ®

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