Internet

"Digital Divas" take on MSN

A "Diva & Goliath" battle has broken out between Microsoft and a women's technology group that says the software giant is upstaging its act.

A "Diva & Goliath" battle has broken out between Microsoft and a women's technology group that says the software giant is upstaging its act.

The dispute was touched off in April, when Microsoft launched a tech advice area on its Microsoft Network Internet portal called "Digital Diva." That was a little too close for comfort for Dana Whitmire, who says she founded her own "Digital Divas" group three years earlier to dispense tech know-how to Internet newbies.

The group sent a letter to Microsoft on April 25 asking that the company stop using the name. Lawyers for both sides have been in touch, but no resolution has been made.

"This is our name; we've built a reputation for this name, and we don't want Microsoft to steamroll over it," Whitmire said. "Microsoft's version is a corporate, dumbed-down version of what we do, but it's the same."

Content on both sites is similar: Microsoft's Digital Diva, Stacy Elliott, helps first-time computer users learn about technology and provides how-to advice. Whitmire's Digital Divas also offers columns, advice and support for those beginning to understand the Web.

A Microsoft spokesman said that the company is aware of the complaint, but that it doesn't look like there's a conflict.

"Our lawyers have talked to their lawyers, and our guys are looking into it. (But) based on what we've seen so far, we don't think there's any confusion in the marketplace," said Adam Sohn, a Microsoft spokesman.

"We take intellectual property rights seriously, and we think we're offering a great Microsoft-branded service for consumers," Sohn added.

Digital Divas contends that Microsoft's new site is confusing its audience. According to Microsoft's Web site, Elliot has been touring the country to promote her Digital Diva page. As a result, Whitmire said, the women's networking group is getting requests from people who want more information about Microsoft's content.

"She's touring the nation and answering questions that we would, and it's clearly causing confusion," said Whitmire, whose group's members range from Web designers to engineers and entrepreneurs. "(Microsoft's Diva) has the power and the money behind her to get her name out more quickly, and it's diluting our name."

Digital Divas has operated the domain name Digitaldivas.com since June 1998, according to Whitmire, and its trademark application is pending. The women's network is selling "Diva & Goliath" coffee mugs and T-shirts to those that want to show their support.

Counsel for Digital Divas said that because the group used the name for more than two years before Microsoft and because the software giant is offering virtually the same services, Digital Divas' case is on strong legal ground.

"Just by using the name continuously over time in association with particular activities, Digital Divas developed a protectable trademark interest in the name," said Mark Marderosian, outside legal counsel for Digital Divas. "More recently, they registered that name with the federal government.

"It's a classic case of domain predation from a big company with unlimited resources," Marderosian said.

The women's group also has launched a site, Greyday.org, that promotes awareness about copyright and trademark rights on the Internet.