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IBM's use of eServer brand to be challenged

IBM will be getting a little surprise within the week: a letter from a small North Carolina software company asking it to change the name of its newly rebranded server family.

Cary, N.C.-based Technauts is taking on the largest computer company in the world for using the name "eServer" to brand its line of servers. For almost three years, Technauts has sold a line of server solutions under the eServer brand name. Even the company's phone number spells out eServer.

After months of speculation about name changes and server consolidations, IBM officially announced on Monday that it was rebranding the name of its server lines, including the AS/400, S/390, RS/6000 and Netfinity computers under the umbrella name eServer. The new name is part of an overall branding strategy by Big Blue that also includes hardware upgrades and a revamped pricing structure.

Despite the obvious similarities between the two names, IBM contends that spelling the new family name "eServer" is not correct. The "e" is actually the letter "e" with a circle around it and is a well-known trademark IBM has been using for over three years, said IBM spokesman James Sciales. eServer trademark

IBM has used the e-symbol in its promotions for e-business. "When people think of e-business, we want them to think about IBM servers," Sciales said.

Technauts isn't buying that argument. "Just try writing the product's symbol name with a computer," said Craig Pyne, Technauts' vice president of sales and marketing. "You are going to write it as eServer. That's my brand."

Founded in 1997, Technauts is a relatively small server appliance manufacturer. Its eServer software is used for Web configuration including e-mail hosting and file sharing. It employs about 60 people.

Technauts and IBM are not alone in their use of an eServer moniker, however. In fact, a simple search using the search engine Google yielded three or four other variations on eServer. For instance, there is a nonprofit EServer Web site where scholars, readers, artists and writers gather to discuss their work. There is also an application service provider, eSERVER, Inc., of San Diego, Calif.

Even the more well known Caldera Systems has an OpenLinux eServer 2.3, which is a collection of server applications. While Technauts says it will be taking similar action against Caldera, it doesn't consider Caldera as much as a threat, said Pyne. "There is a difference. They [Caldera] aren't planning on spending $300 million to advertise and support the brand name of eSever," he said.

About two years ago, Technauts applied for a U.S. trademark for eServer. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office rejected the application, however, saying the term is too general to trademark, much like e-business. However, that decision is under appeal and trademark applications in other countries are likely to be approved, said Pyne.

"There are really two issues, said Pyne. "First, there is the trademark. But secondly, there is the concern that IBM's use of the eServer brand will harm or damage our company. Such harm can at the least cause confusion to our customers"

Technauts also has partnerships with some high profile companies. For example, Hitachi sells its products in Japan. It is also working with Sun Microsystems. "I am sure Sun doesn't want a product on its servers that shares the name with an IBM product," Pyne said.

About 18 months ago, Technauts went through a rebranding, which centered on the eServer product name, Pyne said. "The eServer brand name is absolutely essential to the company."

IBM will be notified within the week that Technauts objects to its use of eServer. "I am confident the legal system will support our contention that IBM's [use of the name eServer] would cause significant damage to our business.

Let us know what you think about the story, e-mail Ed Hurley, assistant news editor

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