I don’t know much about Dexter + Chaney, a $14-million, Seattle-based, privately owned software company whose Forefront Construction Management Software has been sold to builders and construction contractors for more than two decades.
Still, I suspect the company realizes that it is on tenuous logical ground in pressing a lawsuit against Microsoft over the Redmond software behemoth’s use of the Forefront name for its security software.
According to a CNET News.com article, Dexter + Chaney filed suit against Microsoft on Thursday in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington in Seattle. The company is seeking an injunction barring Microsoft from using the Forefront name.
Apparently, Dexter + Chaney contends that Microsoft’s Forefront line of enterprise security products, rebranded versions of previous Microsoft business offerings as well as new additions to the company’s enterprise security portfolio, will be confused with the private firm’s vertical-market products for the construction trade.
How Dexter + Chaney’s lawyers can make this case with a straight face, I have no idea. They certainly are attempting to argue their cause with as much conviction as they can muster, as the following remarks from company spokesman Brad Mathews attests:
The brand has come to mean a great deal to us and our clients, and we hope to our prospects as well. . . . They (Microsoft) will be selling under our brand to the very same people that we sell to. Before the marketplace gets confused, and our business is hurt, we’d like them to pick another name."
How one can confuse a vertical-software package for the construction industry, one that provides no semblance of enterprise security functionality, with Microsoft Forefront’s extensive line of enterprise-security offerings is beyond my limited comprehension.
I’m going out on a limb, but I think Dexter + Chaney customers and Microsoft’s customers, and the small number of joint customers the companies share, can readily distinguish between the two companies and their brands. I think the customers are more intelligent than Dexter + Chaney believe them to be.
But who knows what will be decided in a courtroom. It is not for nothing that Charles Dickens wrote that "the law is an ass." Nobody should assume that common sense and legal verdicts are common progeny of human wisdom. There’s a chance, however remote, that Dexter + Chaney could win this suit in a court of law.
The company’s calculation, I think, is that it can win an out-of-court settlement from Microsoft before the litigation goes before judge and jury. As a result, Microsoft will get to keep the Forefront name and Dexter + Chaney probably will add a significant one-time litigious gain to its balance sheet.
Personally, I think this case should be dismissed summarily, as soon as possible. What should happen and what might happen are not the same, however, and Microsoft probably will hedge its bets by paying off the litigants and moving on.
It’s a shame, really, because others will be encouraged to follow a similar path, and we’ll continue to see spurious trademark and patent litigation for years to come.