COMMENTARY: A US district court judge put Microsoft's trademark-infringement case against Lindows.com on indefinite hold this week, pending an appeals court ruling that could strip the software giant of its Windows trademarks.
The judge's decision is bad news for Microsoft, which sued Lindows.com last year because the name Lindows is too similar to Windows. The lawsuit backfired when Lindows.com challenged the Windows trademark, noting that the word windows is a generic term and thus can't be legally protected with a mark.
This week's ruling means that an appeals court will decide whether windows is indeed a generic term; if so, Microsoft could lose its trademark. At the very least, a jury will be able to use that determination to decide the future trial case between Microsoft and Lindows.com
But before the anyone-but-Microsoft crowd gets too excited, it's important to note that the appeals court will be working under a strict set of rules. According to US District Judge John Coughenour, the court can consider only whether the term windows was a generic computing term before November 1985, when Microsoft released the original version of Windows. And Microsoft can appeal the ruling, of course.
However, the term windows was indeed a generic computing term before November 1985, thanks largely to the introduction of graphical computing systems such as Apple Computer's Macintosh, which the company released in early 1984.
Describing the then-new graphical paradigm, the premiere issue of "Macworld" published in early 1984, noted, "When you want to look at the information that one of the icons represents [on screen], you open a window ... Choose the Open command from the File menu and the screen almost fills up with a rectangular 'window' containing icons that represent the documents and programs on the disk."
And the Mac isn't the only example of a pre-Windows computer windowing system; other examples include VisiCorp's VisiOn shell, which was released in late 1982, and IBM's TopView shell, which was released in February 1985.
Microsoft argues that the term windows should be judged by its acceptance today, not by the standards of the computing market of 20 years ago. But the company says it's pleased that this matter will finally be decided.
"We are very encouraged that the judge has granted our request to ask the court of appeals to provide guidance and clarity on this important issue of law before going to trial," a Microsoft spokesperson said. Lindows.com described the ruling as a "major victory."