updated 7/26/2005 3:29:53 PM ET 2005-07-26T19:29:53

There's a line of sewing machines, an elevator monitoring system, even a brand of detergent used to clean dairy equipment — all bearing the brand name Vista.

There are plenty of computer products that claim the Vista trademark, too.

So Microsoft Corp.'s choice of Vista as the name for the next version of its Windows operating system has some intellectual property experts wondering if a company that has been fiercely protective of its own trademarks will get hauled into court. (MSNBC is a Microsoft-NBC joint venture.)

"It seems like they were a little lax in their intellectual property due diligence — maybe because they're so big, maybe because they're so powerful, maybe because they feel they can do anything they want," said James T. Berger, a Chicago-area marketing communications consultant who teaches at Northwestern and Roosevelt universities.

Stacy Drake, a spokeswoman for the Redmond, Wash.-based software behemoth, said the company did its homework before it applied for a "Windows Vista" trademark in more than 100 countries.

So far, Drake said Microsoft has received no complaints since it announced last Friday that it was letting go of Longhorn, the product development code name for the oft-delayed Windows update due out next year.

"We conducted a thorough search to ensure that the new Windows Vista mark wouldn't infringe on the mark of any others," Drake said.

Under trademark law, a company is generally in the clear as long as it doesn't pick a name for a product that might confuse consumers into mistaking that product for something made by another company.

For example, Microsoft is not in danger of getting sued by any of the various window manufacturers that sell products under some sort of Vista label, because people aren't likely to confuse plate glass with operating systems.

So far, no other company has trademarked an operating system under the name Vista, according to records at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and the International Register.

There are many software and computer products with that name, however — 180 of them according to a search active trademark records.

Vista Software, a small company based in La Jolla, Calif., makes a database engine called Vista DB. It's not trademarked but the company has been promoting it for close to a year. By coincidence, it's designed to work only with the forthcoming version of Windows.

"That makes us look like geniuses, which we're not," CEO Anthony Carrabino quipped. "We must look like we had the inside scoop on this!"

Carrabino said he has no problem with Microsoft's pick. In fact, he's thrilled. Traffic on the company's Web site quadrupled the day Microsoft made its Windows Vista announcement last Friday.

"It's just going to give us a lot of credibility and instantaneously gives us marketing that we normally we would not get."

Meanwhile, John Wall, CEO of Vista Inc., a software company based in Microsoft's home town, told The Seattle Times he may pursue the matter in court. He did not immediately return calls from The Associated Press.

Even though there aren't any other companies with a Vista trademark branding an operating system, some experts say Microsoft could still face challenges.

"I would say that anyone holding a valid trademark in the computer field would have a valid shot going after Microsoft here," said Mitch Reinis, an intellectual property lawyer in Los Angeles.

Microsoft actually takes comfort in the sheer number of Vista products out there in the high-tech industry.

"They're all coexisting and have been coexisting for a long time and they haven't been challenging each other," said Russell Pangborn, a Microsoft lawyer.

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