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Mike Rowe goes soft, hands over PR victory

The Beast comes out smelling of roses

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Microsoft has done it again - looked for all the world like it is going to get a bloody nose, and come out smelling of roses.

The software giant has settled with 17-year-old student Mike Rowe over his domain MikeRoweSoft.com and somehow turned it into a PR opportunity.

There was certainly a good degree of naivete from Mike Rowe and his parents, as indeed there was on the press’s behalf when they bought Microsoft’s line about it wanting to protect its trademark.

But far from Microsoft being hauled over the coals for sending threatening letters to minors over websites it has no legitimate rights to, its lawyers have persuaded the Rowe family to sign over the domain and, we can only assume, put their names to a confidentiality contract which means they won’t talk about the deal. Mike, who was previously very helpful and swift in response to our questions has not replied to queries over the deal, sent three days ago.

This confidentiality contract means Microsoft can say anything it wants about the settlement and not risk being contradicted. So, we have it telling us it will help direct traffic from MikeRoweSoft.com to Mike’s new site and that it will pay “out-of-pocket expenses” related to this. That’s all fine and probably true. We doubt very much what these expenses amount to will ever be made public though.

And then, apparently as part of the settlement, we have the following PR information: it has invited and will pay all expenses for Mark and his family to go the Microsoft campus in March for the Research Tech Fest. He could meet Bill Gates! But no promises.

It will pay for Mike to get Microsoft Certification training! This could mean he come a support technician, or system administrator! It has paid for his subscription to MSDN, Microsoft's developer network site! And, last but not least, it will give Mike a free Xbox with whatever games he wants!

And witness this quote from an MS spokesperson: "It is a story of a young, bright kid starting a business, came up with a creative domain, and I think our initial step was maybe perhaps a bit too impersonal. Once we understood the circumstances around it, we wanted to work things out in a way that would be fair to him."

Quite why Mike would want to be featured in an ad for the company which had days earlier threatened him and tried to set him up, we are not informed (Money, ego? -Ed ) But you can hardly blame the boy for taking the deal. He has offered to pay people back the money that had been sent to him in an impromptu legal fund, or send it all to a charity - tying up the messy loose ends.

Taking the Mike

Mike Rowe is far from the only person that has received a similar threat over domains from Microsoft, but the fact he is under-18 made it a more interesting press story.

Mikerosoft.net owner Mike Rushton has been in touch to say he’s getting the legal treatment. He bought the domain in 2000 but on 3 December 2003, Microsoft’s lawyers demand he hand over the domain. He replied offering to forward the domain to Microsoft.com but on 10 December this was turned down. He’s waiting to see what happens now.

Maybe Microsoft will think it was a little impersonal to him too and give him an Xbox. Or maybe Mr Rushton’s “circumstances” will be seen to be somewhat different, seeing as he hasn’t appeared on any national news programmes.

Just before Mike Rowe’s story took off, there were already a few reports regarding Mikerosoft.ca, this time owned by Mike Morris, and Microsoft’s exact same approach. Did it treat this Mike impersonally? Yes, it did. Mike Morris makes clear on his site that he has no affiliation with Microsoft, so what law exactly is Microsoft referring to when it demands ownership? Are Mr Morris' circumstances different?

What will be interesting though is to see what the company does now with the Mike Rowe issue in the bag. Especially since, as a result of its action and the press reports, every available phonetic combination domains seems to have been taken. One reader tells us he has bought seven such domains including Microwsoft and Mikecrowsoft.

It would be wise of Microsoft to walk away from this one and it probably will. But don’t think for one second that its approach to domains will change. ®

Related stories
Microsoft prepares Mike Rowe legal exit
Microsoft lawyers threaten Mike Rowe (17)

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