In a ruling issued last week, the examining attorney for the Patent Office made an initial refusal of Dell's request, saying the term was too generic to be acceptable as a trademark.
"Registration is refused because the applied-for mark merely describes a feature and characteristic of applicant's services," the decision read. The ruling, however, is not final and Dell has six months to respond.
In an e-mail, a Dell spokesman said the company is undecided whether to appeal. "We are aware of the ruling and will take some time to determine how we will proceed," he said. He declined further comment.
In its decision, the Patent Office said Dell was looking to use cloud computing as a trademark in connection with computer hardware and services designed for data centers and high-performance computing.
The term cloud computing is used in the industry to describe services Internet companies provide to businesses and consumers. The services can range from online backup and office productivity applications to software-as-a-service offerings that encompass CRM and sales-force automation.
Among the most ambitious examples is Amazon.com. The online retailer has opened its huge data center to developers, who can build and deploy Web applications on Amazon's infrastructure and also store data.
Many companies in the tech industry use the words "cloud computing" in describing their own products services. If the Patent Office had granted Dell the trademark, then companies such as Google, IBM, Microsoft, SAP, and Yahoo would be left scrambling for alternatives. To help understand how these and other companies use cloud computing, InformationWeek has published an independent report on the subject. Download the report here (registration required).