What's in a name? If it's a corporate name, the answer is a lawsuit

The Rat never ceases to marvel at the games corporate lawyers play.


A case in point: the latest round of that classic capitalist sport, the name game, as
played by Microsoft Corp. and 3Com Corp.


The term in question is palm. 3Com, owner of Palm Computing Inc. of Mountain View,
Calif., which makes the PalmPilot handheld computer, threatened to sue Microsoft for using
the term palm computer to describe Windows CE devices under development by Microsoft's
partners.


This boggled the Rat's mind. Of course, it did make crazy sense, coming from the
company that paid big bucks to put its name and logo on San Francisco's Candlestick Park.
Did Candle Corp. of Santa Monica sue about that?


The furry one's eyebrows rose even higher when Microsoft acquiesced, claiming the term
was merely an informal appellation for the category and not a product name. Microsoft even
promised to phase in the term palm-sized in place of the word palm over the next few
months.


Obviously, Chairman Bill didn't have his palm read.


The Rat wonders if he himself could be in danger of a 3Com lawsuit. When he visited
Florida recently, he referred to the vegetation as palm trees. A cease-and-desist order
could be on the way from 3Com any day now.


What would be the grounds? Potential PalmPilot and Palm III buyers might mistake a palm
tree for a personal digital assistant, of course.


The Marine Corps can expect to hear from 3Com about Twenty-nine Palms, Calif., too.


And the Catholic Church might be hit with a suit unless it restricts Palm Sunday
celebrants to waving palm branches that bear a 3Com logo.


New congresswoman Mary Bono probably will have to ask her constituents to refer to
their home town as 3Com Springs from now on.


All this makes the cyberrodent's palms itch to wrap themselves around the throat of a
corporate lawyer.


Palm-sized, indeed? Based on 3Com's reasoning, Microsoft customers might expect a
Windows CE computer to be as big as a swaying coconut tree and decline to buy it for lack
of overhead luggage space.


So the Rat decided he should help out by recommending other brand names for Microsoft
to run past its PDA partners. As long as they're reprinting the business cards, they might
as well choose a name that doesn't come off as a slap in the face.


The Rat has a few suggestions:


Of course, Bill Gates might want to steer clear of the last two brand names. He's got
other problems with Washington lawyers right now, the Rat recalls.


The Packet Rat once managed networks but now spends his time ferreting out bad packets
in cyberspace. E-mail him at rat@gcn.com.


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