No Laughing Matter

In August 2003, Canadian high school student Mike Rowe registered the domain name MikeRoweSoft.com. He thought that since his name was Mike Rowe it would be funny to add the word ‘soft’ to the end of it. It was not so funny when Microsoft brought trademark proceedings against him.

Last week I wrote about the additional name protection that a business has upon incorporation. Incorporated businesses can take this name protection one step further by trademarking their name. Trademarking a name allows you the right to initiate trademark proceedings against another person or business to prevent others from using the same business name as yours. This applies not only to business names, but also domain names.

Microsoft initiated trademark proceedings against Mike Rowe, claiming that the domain name infringed on their trademarked name. This was because the name MikeRoweSoft was phonetically similar to Microsoft. Microsoft demanded that Mike Rowe give up the domain name and offered to pay his out-of-pocket expenses, being the $10 he spent to register the domain name. Rowe countered with an offer of $10,000. Eventually both parties reached an out of court settlement. Under this settlement, Mike Rowe stopped using the domain name MikeRoweSoft.com. In exchange, Microsoft provided access to several of their paid courses and websites and sent Mike Rowe an Xbox.

While it might seem harsh that Microsoft went after a high school student, they had to protect their trademarked name. Trademark does provide a business with extra name protection, but only if it is exercised. Microsoft did so in this case to protect its name and reputation.