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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, April 3, 2002

'Pocket PC' challenge proves a laugher

By May Wong
Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — It was not the usual courtroom battle for Microsoft Corp.

Ken Belanger holds his "Pocket PC" that landed him in court in San Francisco in a trademark infringement suit against Microsoft. His gag sales item was marketed before Microsoft's personal computer, but that got him nowhere yesterday, and Belanger withdrew the claim when a Microsoft paralegal showed up with a binder of evidence. "I couldn't win there," Belanger said. "They have too much evidence."

Associated Press

No teams of lawyers. No reams of documents. No streams of delays.

But still, even in small claims court yesterday, the software titan was a formidable opponent.

Entrepreneur Ken Belanger sued the Redmond, Wash.-based company for trademark infringement, but after Marianne Petersen, a Microsoft paralegal, appeared before Court Commissioner Sue Kaplan with a binder of evidence — and Belanger had only a few slips of paper — the 40-year-old San Francisco resident withdrew that claim.

"I couldn't win there," Belanger said later outside the courtroom. "They have too much evidence."

Instead, Belanger continued with what he believes to be a simpler claim of copyright infringement.

Belanger claimed that Microsoft illegally latched on to the name "PocketPC" for its handheld computer operating system. Belanger believes he owns the copyright because he began selling a "Pocket PC" product — a gag gift consisting of a tiny joke book and a poker chip spoofing the computer industry — in 1985.

Belanger never officially registered the Pocket PC trademark with the federal government, and it was not until two days ago that he filed a government claim seeking a copyright for his Pocket PC joke — a move he says gave him the legal right to argue yesterday for copyright infringement.

The commissioner indicated that copyright cases are handled in federal court — not small claims court. She said she would issue a final decision in a week or two.

Belanger is confident his fight against Microsoft will have a David-and-Goliath ending.

With the case, Belanger hopes to win the maximum $5,000 award allowed in California's small claims courts and establish his legal right to the Web address pocketpc.com, a site that Microsoft launched two years ago.

Belanger said he has sold about 2,500 of his Pocket PC products, which sell for less than $10 each. If he prevails over Microsoft, he thinks he could sell more of them online and pursue other small-claims cases against companies that advertise Microsoft's Pocket PC-based devices.

Belanger says he can use the judgment to prove his ownership of Pocket PC to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, the online guardian known as ICANN. Getting the rights to pocketpc.com, he said, is more important than the money.

Trademark disputes are nothing new for Microsoft. Last year, the company reached an undisclosed settlement with Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Xbox Technologies to secure the trademark for the name of Microsoft's video game player. The Michigan company changed its name to the Knowledge Mechanics Group.