Microsoft versus MikeRoweSoft

This trademark infringement case between Microsoft and MikeRoweSoft represents one of the classic legal disputes in the field of intellectual property law. In case you are not already familiar with it, this article summarises the key issues and outlines lessons for brand protection for software companies in particular.

By

Igor Demcak

In August 2003, Mike Rowe, a Canadian student, has registered a domain MikeRoweSoft.com. The sole goal of Mike Rowe was to create a retail channel for his web design business. This action however did not go unnoticed by Microsoft for long, with the initial cease and desist letter dating back to January 2004 [1]. When Mike Rowe asked for a compensation for giving up the domain name, Microsoft offered to cover his expenses of $10. Infuriated by this offer, Mike Rowe asked for $10,000 which merely escalated the legal dispute as Microsoft viewed this action as an admittance of cybersquatting (that is a practice of deliberately blocking a domain for profit) [2].

By the end of 2003, Mike Rowe decided to make the case public, garnering a substantial support from the general public. The donations in excess of $6,000 would have allowed Mike Rowe to seek legal support. Interestingly, this once relatively unknown website of a web designer became increasingly popular, with over 250,000 visitors per day.

It was the negative publicity that eventually led Microsoft to soften its stance on this dispute. An agreement was reached between the parties in the form of Xbox, selection of games, training for Microsoft certification, subscription to Microsoft Developer Network and an all expense paid trip to Microsoft Research Tech Fest [3].

This widely publicised legal dispute provides a number of important learning points. First, from the position of an established software company, this case illustrates that trademark registration is highly effective in limiting unexpected threats in the form of copycats and other individuals who may wish to infringe upon the good reputation of a given brand. At the same time, it needs to be pointed out that not every case of a similar mark being used requires a strong legal action as this approach may backfire. Secondly, from the perspective of Mike Rowe, this case highlights the importance of thinking about brand protection and trademark registration from the very start, avoiding unnecessary complications and disputes with well-established brands.

[1] Jeffery, S. (2004), “Mike Rowe no soft touch”, The Guardian, available from: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2004/jan/20/microsoft.business

[2] Wired (2004), “MikeRoweSoft names his price”, available from: https://www.wired.com/2004/01/mikerowesoft-names-his-price/

[3] Kotadia, M. (2004), “MikeRoweSoft settles for an Xbox”, available from: https://www.cnet.com/news/mikerowesoft-settles-for-an-xbox/

Igor Demcak

Igor Demcak

Trademark Attorney

Filed over 150 trademarks as a trademark attorney

UPJS Kosice

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