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Software company beats M$ to Xbox trademark

Little-known, loss-making vertical market software biz calls foul

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Xbox Technologies has pipped Microsoft to register its name as a trademark - a move that could force the software giant to change its console's moniker before its launch later this year.

The current owner of the Xbox brand is - or, rather, wants to be - a Florida-based umbrella organisation for a number of small software operations. It registered Xbox as a trademark back in March 1999, according to the FT, and has since made 46 more applications based on the name.

Microsoft filed for the trademark in October 1999.

Of course, once Xbox Technologies learned the name of Microsoft's console project it made the obvious move: it offered to buy the trademark off Microsoft, though looking at its most recent financials, we reckon it would have had a very tough time paying for the name. So far, the Beast of Redmond does not seem to have bitten, its MD, John Van Leeuwen, claimed.

Van Leeuwen reckons he first heard about the Xbox console early last year, and contacted Microsoft immediately. He didn't say whether he will sell the name, but that's likely to be the outcome. Microsoft is throwing shedloads of money at its own Xbox project, and it's unlikely to want to prejudice that over a trademark infringement claim.

Microsoft can launch Xbox as planned, but unless it has an agreement with Xbox Technologies, it leaves itself open to a possible restraining order that might force it to cease shipping the console after its debut.

That leaves the company with three options: settle with Xbox Technologies, fight it in court or rename Xbox.

The latter isn't impossible, but very, very unlikely. More probable is that Microsoft will risk it, arguing that there's no conflict between a games console and a business software company (though Van Leeuwen believes there is), that Xbox Technologies hasn't actually shipped anything under that name (that's what we take from the FT's comment that Xbox "plans to use [the name] as an umbrella name for its software companies as well as a name for specific software products" - the use of the future tense suggests Xbox isn't doing anything yet), and that Xbox is far better known as Microsoft's console than anything else (true).

Whatever the strength of these arguments, Microsoft could keep Xbox Technologies tied up in legal tape so long, it would have little choice but to settle for a little Microsoft spare change. As one of the Great Satan's spokesimps put it: "We will prevail."

Microsoft might even buy the company. Xbox Technologies' market cap is a mere $3.86 million, according to Yahoo! Finance's January 2001 records. The loss-making company was most recently known as Nicollet Process Engineering, Inc, and "designs, manufactures, markets, and supports monitoring and control systems, host level client/server software, and machine diagnostic tools for the die casting and plastic injection molding industries", according to Yahoo! Finance.

Our money's on Microsoft on this one. Unless, of course, Sony follows reader Arron Rouse's suggestion, and buys the trademark first. Now there's a fight we'd like a ringside seat for... ®

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