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Microsoft doesn't own Explorer name -- trial approaches

It seems inconceivable that Microsoft would pitch such a hard-fought battle over software whose name it doesn't even own, but that is the case.

Despite an arguable success against the monolithic American Justice department, Microsoft has failed to settle with Synet, a small Internet company that owns -- and can prove it -- the term 'Internet Explorer'.

Microsoft has quietly plied Synet with out-of-court offers of $75,000 for two years now, but despite no longer trading, the company, based in the Chicago suburbs, has stood firm. Synet began using the name in 1994 -- one year before Bill Gates made the Web his business -- and Microsoft now faces charges in federal court over use of the name. The trial is due to start next week.

As part of the suit first filed two years ago, Synet asked that Microsoft be forced to stop using the name until Synet's federal trademark filing is complete. Synet received a trademark for the name, and filed for other states a month before the Microsoft's browser went public.

Since Synet's refusal of the out-of-court deal, Microsoft has claimed the term 'Internet Explorer' is generic, "unprotectable", and usable by anyone. Such a public domain claim would, if true, render any ownership -- by Synet or Microsoft -- impossible.

The case begins tomorrow.