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8/4/2008
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Dell Seeks, May Receive 'Cloud Computing' Trademark

The company now has six months to file a statement of use -- a document backing up or solidifying Dell's use of the term cloud computing -- or request for extension.

Like the term Web 2.0, "cloud computing" is quickly becoming a meme without borders.

And like the old one, the new phrase with the fuzzy definition (is it software as a service, or utility computing, or anything served over the Internet, or none of the above, or all?) has someone making a claim on its trademark, as Dell filed for a trademark on the term last year.

Dell's trademark filing is for computer and networking hardware design, customization and development as well as consulting services for "data centers and mega-scale computing environments." The filing, published in April 2007, is now in the "notice of allowance" stage, which means it has been approved but not yet formally registered. The trademark filing is filed under the filing basis 1B, which means it hadn't yet been used but that Dell intended to do so when filing.

Last year, Dell introduced a new cloud computing business called Dell Cloud Computing Solutions, aimed at providing hardware, consulting and planning to Web companies that require highly scalable data centers. Recently, Dell founder and CEO Michael Dell told BusinessWeek cloud computing would soon be a $1 billion business for the company. Among its early customers is Ask.com.

The company now has six months to file a statement of use -- a document backing up or solidifying Dell's use of the term cloud computing -- or request for extension. Otherwise, it will have abandoned the application. A Dell spokesman said the company will decide within these six months if it intends to press forward, but gives no indication which way the company leans. The application has already passed the period when opponents could come out against it.

It's possible the trademark could still be rejected if found that someone else used it before Dell's filing date, or if the term was in popular general use, and someone sued Dell with those claims. Though filing documents show that Dell did a search for prior use, there are commercial references to cloud computing on the Web before April 2007. For example, Google CEO Eric Schmidt also used the term in reference to the more general term in remarks to investors a month earlier. According to a Dell spokesman, Dell always does appropriate due diligence around adoption and use of its IP.

The trademark application was recently noted by cloud computing consultant Sam Johnston, posting on a Google Groups cloud computing forum. Dell has also snatched up the Web sites cloudcomputing.com, cloud-computing.com, and cloud-computing.net as well as cloudcomputers.com. Cloudcomputing.com re-routes visitors to Dell's Cloud Computing Solutions Web site.

Dell's efforts to trademark the term "cloud computing" echo an earlier episode surrounding the term "Web 2.0," which is now a registered trademark of United Business Media, InformationWeek's parent company. Web 2.0 is trademarked in reference to live events and conferences. After the Web 2.0 trademark had been filed (but not yet registered), some controversy temporarily erupted on the Web when a networking group for IT professionals received a cease and desist letter after attempting to set up the "Web 2.0 Half Day Conference" in 2006.

UBM hosts the annual Web 2.0 Summit and Expo in cooperation with the O'Reilly Group and had filed the trademark in 2003. O'Reilly group founder Tim O'Reilly has said that neither his company nor UBM are asserting a claim to every use of the phrase Web 2.0. And despite the earlier cease and desist letter, non-UBM Web 2.0 conferences continue, such as Silicon Valley WebGuild's Web 2.0 Conference & Expo earlier this year. The leader of that conference was also served a cease and desist notice, but put on the conference anyway and was not sued.

InformationWeek's full report on cloud computing including the strategies of Amazon, Google, Salesforce.com, and five other leading vendors can be downloaded here (registration required).

Dell isn't the first to attempt to trademark "cloud computing." In 1997, NetCentric Corporation also filed, though that claim is now dead. NetCentric's claim was on educational events about computer and communications networks.

The article was edited on Aug. 4 to include Dell's comments

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