Earlier this week, a federal judge delayed the Lindows.com trademark case against Microsoft from April 7 until December, giving Lindows.com time to examine more than 300 boxes of evidence that Apple Computer collected during its own trademark lawsuit against Microsoft in the mid-1990s. But Lindows.com might have received even better news yesterday when the US Supreme Court handed down a precedent-setting verdict in an unrelated trademark infringement case that has obvious ramifications in the Lindows.com suit.
Microsoft, you might recall, sued Lindows.com last year because the Lindows name was too close to Windows, on which Microsoft owns a trademark, and the software giant charged the smaller company with confusing customers. However, Lindows.com countersued, noting that Microsoft couldn't legally own a trademark on a generic term such as Windows, and a federal judge gave his preliminary approval to this claim, setting an April court date. Microsoft has aggressively protected its Windows trademark over the years, and if the company loses the mark, it will likely have to change the Windows product name to one that the company can trademark.
Meanwhile, this week, the US Supreme Court ruled that a small Kentucky company named Victor's Little Secret doesn't violate federal law because its name is similar to Victoria's Secret, a well-known brand name and trademark. During deliberations, the court determined that although the names are similar and the name Victor's Little Secret did cause consumers to think of Victoria's Secret, the name didn't cause consumers to think less of Victoria's Secret. Thus, the court ruled, no harm was done to Victoria's Secret and its trademark wasn't compromised.
Legal experts say that the Victoria's Secret case is a milestone for trademark law in the United States. "\[This ruling\] could be a serious setback for owners of famous trademarks," trademark lawyer Douglas R. Wolf told "The Boston Globe," noting that the bar has now been raised for trademark owners seeking to prove that similar names "winnow away the value of such marks."