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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25 Comments

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MS had such nice logo designs over the last decade... I love Metro and everything, but they ****ed up all these iconic logos with flat, abstract ugly ones. The IE7 logo is amazing! Of course, it won't fit within Metro, but still, there was no need to change the Windows and Office logos. The marketplace icon in Win8/WP8 makes my eyes bleed everytime I see it.

microsoft really should have just dumped the whole "internet explorer" brand name and switched to something like "excalibur" .... you get my point

These misleading and downright BS titles to attract views have to stop. It's not over the E, it's over the logo, which just happens to contain an E.

Not to mention when comparing logos, you've compared IE7's logo.

Always the same writer who writes this **** too. Report the news as it is, don't change it to warp what's really happening just to get a few hits on the article.

Well the article uses irrelevant images to reference the company logos as they are not the logos that were in use in 1997.

In 1997 Microsoft was on IE 4 which was the first version to use the lovely blue e we all grew up with.
http://www.noonnoo.com/downloads/browsers/ie4-2(128x128).png

E.Piphany had this logo as theirs http://web.archive.org/web/199...om/images_nav/top_01_01.gif

Similar not really. they are both blue lower case e's with a curved line associated with them but that is the extent of it....

so lets see, IE's logo is a blue e with a curve going from the bottom left of the e to the top right of the e over top of it. the other company in question is the same in that aspect, the thing with trademarks is that they are quite simply defined in what they are, now this isnt really meaning much though since the case never happened

plamennicolov said,
This is plain stupid, because this "E" doesn't look remotely like IE's "E". On the other hand, ETEM's "E" (http://madeinetem.com) is EXACTLY like IE's and has been for as long as I can remember, but no one's suing them...

What about e-machines?

So this is about an email response that was never sent, to another email that has been lost, about a legal threat that never happened, on a company that now doesn't exist.

Slow news day?

joewood72 said,
So this is about an email response that was never sent, to another email that has been lost, about a legal threat that never happened, on a company that now doesn't exist.

Slow news day?

And all from way back when.

joewood72 said,
So this is about an email response that was never sent, to another email that has been lost, about a legal threat that never happened, on a company that now doesn't exist.

Slow news day?

LOL, yup...

I read about this yesterday and couldn't help feeling like this guy is pitiful. He's basically coming out of nowhere to say "HAY GUYS LOOK AT THIS LETTER I DIDN'T SEND".

Ugh. Call it U.C. Berkeley or University of California, Berkeley. I was like, what's "University of Berkeley??".

It's not the letter but the similarity in logos.. namely a trademark violation. The whole bit about N and J is just being silly.. of course they can't sue for that. Now if Oracle designed a logo for Java that had the letter J in it and it got an approved trademark, then yea they could. Nice, more flamebait articles.

andrewbares said,
Dumb lawsuits. Something needs to be done restricting them.

Yes, anyone should be able to create a logo that uses the same elements in another company's... /sarcasm

It is the ugly nature of the trademark beast. You have to defend them to claim ownership of them...

You could make the same argument about Apple (a very common English word) and Windows (another common usage English word)...

Trademark ability isn't solely based on how common the word is, but how well a company has been at cornering it off into being unique in certain usage and then defending that unique usage.

articuno1au said,
That's not over the letter E.

It's about the design that looks just like Internet Explorer's E icon :\

I do believe you may need to invest in glasses. The two look nothing alike (besides having an E in them). The E.piphany logo has a rounded arrow surrounding the letter, while Microsoft's IE logo has a ring around it (imitating planet/ring style).

Michael Anderson said,

I do believe you may need to invest in glasses. The two look nothing alike (besides having an E in them). The E.piphany logo has a rounded arrow surrounding the letter, while Microsoft's IE logo has a ring around it (imitating planet/ring style).

The point is, the story is written as if the issue was specifically over the usage of the letter "E" when it is in fact about the usage of the letter "E" in a design of a logo, not the letter by it's self. So the first poster is right.

xendrome said,

The point is, the story is written as if the issue was specifically over the usage of the letter "E" when it is in fact about the usage of the letter "E" in a design of a logo, not the letter by it's self. So the first poster is right.

Absolutely. Another news story that went over the writer's head I think...

Yes, but they're now comparing the IE7/8 logo with the logo of E.piphany. The old E-logo from 1997 (IE4 if I'm right) look more the same.