"No Walls" Trademark Dispute (Maybe Microsoft Should Bring Back Seinfeld)
An unusual Israeli-Palestinian joint venture start-up, which makes a cloud-based Web operating system letting users access their desktops from any computer with an Internet connection, is alleging a trademark violation by Microsoft in its new $300 million advertising campaign.
G.ho.st, which stands for “Global Hosted Operating System,” is claiming it has a pending trademark registration for the tagline “no walls.”
G.ho.st has used the phrase for almost 18 months and is alleging that it pertains specifically to operating systems (as shown in the screenshot here).
In a letter sent earlier this week to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and many others, which BoomTown has obtained, G.ho.st CEO Zvi Schreiber claims that the software giant has violated G.ho.st’s pending trademark for the ad phrase “no walls” and asks Microsoft (MSFT) to remove it from the company’s marketing materials.
Microsoft’s advertising campaign, which launched this month and had a rocky start with poorly received commercials featuring comedian Jerry Seinfeld and Microsoft Founder Bill Gates, uses the taglines “Imagine No Walls” and “Life Without Walls” to tout its Vista operating system. (See a screenshot of one example below; click on it to make it larger.)
G.ho.st, which is hosted by Amazon (AMZN), is yet another of many attempts to make cloud computing real and is competing to grab customers from the software-based Windows powerhouse.
A Microsoft spokesman, in an email to me, dismissed G.ho.st’s claims.
“We are aware of their concerns and believe their claims have no merit. We are not aware that Ghost has any trademark registrations or other rights that would be infringed by our ‘Life Without Walls’ campaign. To our knowledge, the right they have asserted, namely, a U.S. ‘registered trademark application,’ in the phrase ‘No Walls,’ does not exist.
“To our knowledge, Ghost has no trademark registrations or other rights in the phrase ‘No Walls.’ Even if they did, they cannot prevent others from using the words ‘no walls’ together in a sentence or in a descriptive manner in ad copy. Nor can they claim ownership in word ‘wall’ or the idea of a wall. The tagline for Microsoft’s new ad campaign is ‘Life Without Walls’–a slogan that, taken in its entirety, is not confusingly similar to Ghost’s purported ‘motto.’”
G.ho.st launched at our D: All Things Digital conference this past May (where Ballmer and Gates also appeared).
Here are two videos showing the start-up’s whole demo:
And here’s G.ho.st CEO Zvi Schreiber’s full email letter to Ballmer (with email addresses and other personal information redacted):
From: “Zvi Schreiber (G.ho.st)”
To: [Steve Ballmer]
Sent: Wednesday, September 24, 2008 12:15:41 AM (GMT+0200) Auto-Detected
Subject: G.ho.st Virtual Computer NO WALLS trademark
September 23, 2008
G.ho.st (pronounced “ghost”, an acronym of Global Hosted Operating SysTem and the trading name of Ghost Inc.–seehttp://G.ho.st) has been marketing an early version of our Virtual Computer (VC) product and service since April 2007 under the tag line “no walls” .
Steve, you have apparantly personally acknowledged that we are an innovative competitor to Microsoft® Windows® . The press sees the G.ho.st Virtual Computer and Microsoft Windows as competitors too .
What are you thinking in rebranding Microsoft Windows with the tag line “life without walls” and with the prominent messaging “IMAGINE NO WALLS” (with the word IMAGINE small and the words NO WALLS in large all-caps font right on the Windows home page http://www.microsoft.com/windows/ and ), marks which are virtually identical (or, ignoring the much smaller “imagine”, actually identical) to our trademark, and using these marks on the Windows home page and in a massive marketing campaign since last Thursday?
G.ho.st believes its Virtual Computer is offering consumers the first real conceptual alternative to Windows in decades. We have been using our limited marketing budget to market the user benefits of our fresh approach to personal computing under the trademark “no walls” for the last 17 months and teaching the market that “no walls” represents benefits such as
* A personal computing environment (desktop, file system, apps) which is not “walled” into – or installed on–a physical devices–but is hosted and available from any browser
* A personal computing environment which is free of charge and not only for the well off
* A personal computing environment that does not require administration–no need to install or update software, no need for the user to perform backups or fight viruses
* A personal computing environment which is online and allows all users globally to share with each other directly.
Steve, does Microsoft Windows Vista® offer these benefits?
But now you have taken a tag line virtually identical, or identical, to our trademark, without license, and applied it to a competitive product which has none of the same benefits. You are apparently spending more each hour than we were able to spend in total since April 2007–reportedly you are spending $300m in total–conveying these messages and completely overwhelming our own marketing using a virtually identical or identical trademark.
In addition the suspicion arises that Microsoft’s disrespect for G.ho.st’s intellectual property is designed to scare off potential investors in G.ho.st or partners of G.ho.st and prevent us from giving our innovative Virtual Computer solution a fair chance in the market place.
After consulting our advisors we believe that your use of marks highly similar or identical to our trademark in connection with the promotion and sale of your Windows products creates confusion as to the source, sponsorship and/or affiliation of the products before and after the point of sale, and/or is likely to cause mistake, and/or is likely to deceive the public, especially considering the acknowledged competition between Microsoft Windows and G.ho.st.
Given the size of Microsoft and the reputation of Windows and Microsoft in the market, the use of these marks is also likely to create reverse confusion where consumers are likely to be confused into thinking that our VC technology is being offered by Microsoft or that some of our technology is being licensed by Microsoft or that Microsoft has licensed our tag line or that Microsoft has achieved the same technical features that we offer–none of which are apparently true.
We are advised that these actions may constitute, inter alia, violations of 15 U.S.C. §§1114 and 1125 (Lanham Act), common law unfair competition, palming off and dilution of our trademarks under Federal, State and international laws.
In order to resolve this matter amicably, and given the phenomenal rate at which you are advertising these marks and harming our business, G.ho.st requires the following by the end of business Thursday, September 25, 2008:
1. Written confirmation that Microsoft has ceased and desisted all unauthorized use of G.ho.st’s NO WALLS mark and any marks similar thereto, including, without limitation, the LIFE WITHOUT WALLS, IMAGINE WITHOUT WALLS and IMAGINE NO WALLS marks, on your products, Web site, marketing materials, advertising and other promotions and written agreement to not use these marks or similar marks in the future;
2. Publication in the same media where these marks were displayed or advertised of an appropriate clarification that Microsoft has not licensed G.ho.st’s technology or trademark and does not offer the same features and benefits as the G.ho.st Virtual Computer that have become associated with the theme of “NO WALLS” from G.ho.st’s own marketing.
3. Negotiating a good faith license for your past use of these marks (and should you wish it and should you and we agree on terms–also for future use).
We reserve the right to publish our own clarifications on this matter. However given that G.ho.st’s marketing budget is a tiny fraction of Microsoft’s, we would obviously not be able to substantially reduce the massive confusion on our own, nor is it our responsibility, and any publication by us would in no way reduce the need for the remedies above.
The above demands are made without prejudice to all of the rights, remedies and causes of action that G.ho.st has, including, without limitation, recovery of damages, injunctive relief and attorneys’ fees. We look forward to your prompt response.
From US: [redacted]
Sent from my free G.ho.st Virtual Computer
 G.ho.st US Federal registered trademark application for mark “NO WALLS” #77576419.
Examples of the press covering G.ho.st’s “no walls” tag line include:
Examples of our use include:
Brochure: http://www.g.ho.st/images/pager.pdf (advertised on http://www.g.ho.st/home/Literature.jsp?language=en)
Booths http://www.g.ho.st/images/photoGallery/web2expoSF20083.jpg (Microsoft exhibited at some of the same events as these booths)
 E.g. http://news.cnet.com/8301-13772_3-10035532-52.html
 E.g. http://www.microsoft.com/windows/