An enterprising Canadian teenager named Mike Rowe got the scare of his life last week when Microsoft's lawyers threatened him with heavy-handed legal action because his Web site, MikeRoweSoft.com, allegedly violated Microsoft's trademark. A high-school student and part-time Web designer, Rowe says he thought the play on names was too funny to pass up, but Microsoft's lawyers weren't laughing when they mailed a 25-page letter to the teen last week demanding that he hand over the domain name. Rowe revealed the altercation to the press, and his story received a lot of attention on the Internet--so much attention, in fact, that Rowe had to temporarily take down the site when 250,000 visits in a 12-hour period overwhelmed the site's bandwidth. Virtually all onlookers loudly criticized Microsoft for its actions. Then, yesterday, Microsoft suddenly backed down, issuing an apology in which the company admitted that it had acted improperly.
"We appreciate that Mike Rowe is a young entrepreneur who came up with a creative domain name," the company said in a statement yesterday. "We take our trademark seriously, but maybe a little too seriously in this case." Separately, a Microsoft representative noted that the company is working with Rowe on an equitable settlement. "Microsoft has been in communication with Mr. Rowe in a good-faith effort to reach a mutually agreeable resolution," he said. "And we remain hopeful we can resolve this issue to everyone's satisfaction."
Given Microsoft's wrangling with Lindows.com over its name, which is phonetically similar to Windows, Microsoft almost had to threaten Rowe over his MikeRoweSoft.com domain name, legal experts say. According to trademark law, trademark owners are required to defend their trademarks against infringement or risk losing the mark. But few people could argue that Rowe doesn't have a valid claim for the domain name. "It's not \[Microsoft's\] name," Rowe recently said. "It's my name. I just think it's kind of funny that they'd go after a 17 year old."