Microsoft-Lindows battle expands in Europe

Microsoft expands its trademark dispute with Lindows to Europe, putting pressure on the Linux seller and its PC partners to stop distributing the company's open-source operating system.

David Becker Staff Writer, CNET News.com
David Becker
covers games and gadgets.
David Becker
3 min read
Microsoft has expanded its legal battle with Lindows to Europe, putting pressure on PC makers there and on the company to stop distributing Lindows software.

The dispute opens another front in Lindows' trademark spat with Microsoft, which has claimed that the company's name violates its Windows trademark in the United States. Microsoft's lawsuit over that issue is scheduled for trial next March.

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The latest action involves Microsoft's European trademarks for the Windows name. Lawyers representing the software company in the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg (the Benelux countries) and in Sweden sent letters to Lindows and several PC manufacturers in those countries, saying the use of the Lindows name infringes on Microsoft trademarks in those countries.

The letters demand that San Diego-based Lindows and its resellers stop offering the software in those countries immediately or face unspecified "legal action." The Benelux lawyer further demands that Lindows make its Web site inaccessible to residents of the Benelux countries.

Microsoft spokesman Jim Desler confirmed that the company had sent the letters. "We've taken steps in certain European territories to curtail infringing behavior on the part of Lindows," he said.

Lindows CEO Michael Robertson, in Amsterdam on Monday to begin a weeklong visit to rally European partners, said he'll continue selling Lindows in Europe, a decision he expects will result in more lawsuits.

"It's a tactic to make us spend money opening up all these new legal fronts," he said. "It makes no sense to launch all these lawsuits when in three months, this case will be decided in a U.S. court, and if we lose, we'll change our name, and it's a nonissue."

Desler said Microsoft must protect its trademarks or risk losing them and that a ruling in the U.S. case would unlikely affect overseas trademarks. "The resolution of the U.S. case doesn't necessarily bind any other country," he said.

Desler declined to comment on what Microsoft's next action would be in Sweden and Benelux or whether trademark actions would be taken in other countries. "We're taking this on a step-by-step basis," he said.

To help pay legal costs relating to the anticipated new legal cases, Lindows has started its ChoicePC.com project. For $100, subscribers get a lifetime license to run Lindows and access the company's online services. All money raised will be used to support Lindows availability country by country, as lawsuits are launched.

"It's meant to generate some dollars from people who care about choice...so we can fight Microsoft," Robertson said. "I think Microsoft is going to do everything in their power to ensure they remain the only choice in stores. We're trying to change that."

Desler disputed Robertson's characterization. "There are many Linux products in the market using names that don't infringe on the Windows mark, and Microsoft has no issue with them," he said. "We're not trying to prevent Lindows from competing with us; we're just trying to protect our trademark."

Robertson, founder of influential digital music site MP3.com, started Lindows two years ago to offer a version of the Linux operating system with an interface similar to that of Microsoft's Windows. The company immediately clashed with Microsoft over the name. And they subsequently clashed over Lindows' efforts to crack the security code Microsoft's Xbox game console uses and to process claims for California consumers a Microsoft legal settlement covered.

Lindows has gone on to become one of the more popular consumer distributions of Linux. Its software is available through retailers such as Wal-Mart and preinstalled on a variety of PC models.