cloud computing - lowercase, please. hold the (TM)

Feel free to approach a co-worker at the Red Bull station this morning and casually ask: "So, did you do any cloud computing over the weekend?" OK, maybe that ice-breaker won't get you invited to happy hour with the cool crew from HR, but it also won't get you into hot water with the U.

Feel free to approach a co-worker at the Red Bull station this morning and casually ask: "So, did you do any cloud computing over the weekend?" OK, maybe that ice-breaker won't get you invited to happy hour with the cool crew from HR, but it also won't get you into hot water with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

The USPTO has declared that the phrase "cloud computing" is a "generic" term used to describe a broad type of computing and therefore cannot be trademarked. The ruling comes in response to a March 2007 application by Dell Inc., to trademark the term when it announced its Cloud Computing Solutions, which still carries a trademark symbol. Dell was initially told in July that it could have the trademark but, nearly a month later, had that decision withdrawn. Late last week, the application was officially denied.

"The application was to protect the use of the term 'cloud computing' as it relates specifically to our offering," Dell spokesman Jess Blackburn told CNET prior to the announced denial. "At the time when we announced our solution, it was not quite as pervasive a term. We sought to protect our intellectual property, and we certainly respect the intellectual property of other people and would not infringe on that of others."

Still, the trademark was for the term itself and that seems a bit extreme when you consider that cloud computing services are starting to gain some traction in a variety of sectors - even if, as is the case in some cases, it's just an idea that's floating around IT departments. Gartner reported in October of last year that software as a service is expected to have a compound annual growth rate of 22.1 percent through 2011 for the enterprise application software markets, which is more than double the growth rate for total enterprise software.

See also: Dell's 'Cloud Computing' and other strange stuff.

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