Rowe, a 17-year-old student from Vancouver, British Columbia, registered Mikerowesoft.com to front his part-time Web site design business in August 2003. Three months later, he received an e-mail from Microsoft's lawyers, asking him to transfer the domain name to Microsoft. They offered to pay him a "settlement" of $10, which is the cost of his original registration fee.
However, after the case received widespread coverage on the Internet, Microsoft acknowledged that it may have taken things too far and promised to treat Rowe fairly. A representative of the software company told ZDNet UK: "We appreciate that Mike Rowe is a young entrepreneur who came up with a creative domain name. We take our trademark seriously, but maybe a little too seriously in this case."
Under the law, Microsoft is required to take action to protect its trademark against widespread infringement. Struan Robertson, editor of Out-Law.com, a Web site that covers legal issues affecting information technology, explained that if a holder does not take action to protect its trademark whenever it is aware of a potential infringement, it risks losing that protection.
Robertson gives Hoover as an example of a trademark that has become a generic word for vacuum cleaning: "If you or I talk about hoovering our house, that is not an issue, but if Electrolux talks about hoovering, that is an issue," he said.
According to Robertson, Rowe may have a good argument for keeping the domain name, because it is his real name, and he isn't pretending to be affiliated with Microsoft. But he said Microsoft probably regrets getting involved with the case because of all the bad publicity it has generated.
"It is probably a very trivial issue for Microsoft, and I wouldn't be surprised if they regret getting involved with it. Microsoft may be prepared to pay him some money to make this go away, because this is not the kind of publicity that Microsoft wants to attract," added Robertson.
Microsoft hopes to resolve the problem in a way that is agreeable to both parties: "We are currently in the process of resolving this matter in a way that will be fair to him and satisfy our obligations under trademark law," the representative said.
Munir Kodatia of ZDNet UK reported from London.