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Intel's mystery mark, VIIV, sparks intrigue

Recent trademark filings from Intel are raising speculation that the world's largest chip maker may be preparing to create a new global brand.
/ Source: Reuters

Recent trademark filings from Intel Corp. are raising speculation that the world's largest chip maker may be preparing to create a new global brand. The question is, what does VIIV mean?

"Intel Inside VIIV" and "Intel VIIV" were filed as U.S. trademarks last month by the Santa Clara, California-based chip maker, known for its Pentium and Centrino brands. A square graphic, resembling an inkblot or a starfield, was also filed around the same time.

Intel watchers have a few hypotheses on the meaning of VIIV. One is that the letters are Roman numerals standing for 6 and 4, as in 64-bit technology, a feature that Intel is introducing in its chips this year.

Another is that VIIV will appear in a more stylized form as the logo for the company's new dual-core chips, which are the equivalent of two chips in one. Two letter V's, separated by two lines, could represent the two cores of a Pentium 5 chip.

Of course, the trademark for VIIV, which Intel also filed in Asia and Europe, could be something else altogether, or nothing at all. (Intel's rival Advanced Micro Devices Inc. filed trademarks for Forton, Adepton, Tegron, Metaron, and Vanton but doesn't making chips with those brand names.)

Intel spokesman Chuck Mulloy declined comment, saying Intel doesn't discuss unannounced brands or trademarks. But that hasn't stopped chip industry pundits from expressing intrigue.

"I think whoever it was flunked Roman numerals in grade school," said Nathan Brookwood, the head of technology consulting firm Insight 64.

Brookwood says he thinks VIIV stands for 64-bit technology. "When your name is Insight 64, you're looking for 64 all over the place," he said. Still, the proper representation of 64 is LXIV, he pointed out.

Charlie Glavin, an analyst with Needham & Co., prefers the dual-core theory. "I'm thinking of it as far as a dual-core, V-V," he said.

Microprocessors, the central chip in computers, are among the most complex products ever produced by humankind, composed of hundreds of millions of microscopic switches that check e-mail and play video games.

So complicated, in fact, that chip makers like Intel and AMD increasingly shy away from bothering to explain the technical aspects of the chip, instead focusing their efforts on brand names dreamed up by Madison Avenue.

Centrino, Intel's most recently introduced chip brand for notebook PCs, "suggests flight, mobility and forward movement," according to Intel marketing materials. (Centrino is also the Italian word for "doily," a reference duly noted by Intel in its trademark application.)

In fact, Centrino isn't even a chip, but a "platform" brand for three chips, one more complicated than the next. But that hasn't kept it from market acceptance, with many PC shoppers asking by name for notebooks powered by Centrino.

The Intel Inside campaign is another example of the power of branding, making it clear that PC shoppers are getting an Intel, even if they don't quite know why that's a good thing.

Chip names can also backfire, as Intel is well aware. Intel's Itanium chip, its most powerful microprocessor, earned the derogatory nickname "Itanic" after its lack of market acceptance had some critics treating it as a sinking ship.