Microsoft once threatened a lawsuit over the letter "E"

Big companies filing lawsuits to protect their trademarks is nothing new. However, it looks like Microsoft once threatened to file a lawsuit based on the use of just one letter in a company's logo.

In a new post on the official blog of the University of California at Berkeley, Steve Blank, a lecturer at the university's Haas School of Business, wrote that back in 1997, he was part of a tech company called E.piphany. Their products included some that worked on web browsers such as Netscape and Microsoft's Internet Explorer.

The logo for E.piphany looked like this:

According to Haas, the logo's design of the letter "E" was apparently too similar for Microsoft's taste; they also used a stylized "E" for Internet Explorer.

Haas writes that Microsoft sent a letter to E.piphany in 1997 that threatened the company with a lawsuit unless they changed the "E" design in E.piphany's logo. While Microsoft letter is apparently lost in time, Haas did post E.piphany's planned response to Microsoft. It said in part:

While I understand Microsoft’s proprietary interest in protecting its software, I did not realize (until the receipt of your ominous legal missive) that one of the 26 letters in the English language was now the trademarked property of Microsoft.

The letter added:

Given that Microsoft sets the standard for most things in the computer industry, I hope we don’t open the mail next week and find Netscape suing us for using the letter “N”, quickly followed by Sun’s claim on “J”. Perhaps we can submit all 26 letters to some sort of standards committee for arbitration. Come to think of it, starting with “e” is another brilliant Microsoft strategy. It is the most common letter in the English language.

So what happened? Apparently nothing. Haas states that his letter responding to Microsoft's first lawsuit threat was never actually sent. He says that it's likely that "cooler heads prevailed" and that E.piphany later became a major customer of Microsoft. In 2005, E.piphany was acquired by SSA Global Technologies.

Source: University of California at Berkeley blog | Images via Microsoft and E.piphany

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