Company sues Microsoft over 'Forefront' name

Microsoft may have thought it was being original when it decided to brand its security portfolio "Forefront" in July, but a Seattle software company begs to differ.

Earlier this week, Dexter + Chaney, which develops the Forefront Construction Suite software, filed a lawsuit against Microsoft in a federal district court in Seattle requesting an injunction that would prohibit Microsoft from using the Forefront name.

The company said that since 1988, it has used the Forefront brand on its software, which is used by more than 1,000 construction companies in the U.S. for project management and accounting tasks. The company is concerned that Microsoft's using the brand will confuse customers using or considering Dexter + Chaney's products.

"We're very concerned about losing 18 years of brand equity in the construction marketplace, based on Microsoft's actions," said Brad Mathews, Dexter + Chaney's vice president of sales and marketing, in a statement. "Construction companies throughout the United States know and respect the 'Forefront' name. By using that name in the construction industry, Microsoft will confuse our customers and prospects, and harm our company."

To be fair, Microsoft's Forefront line of products is not specific to the construction industry, though it's certainly possible those kinds of companies might buy or consider the product line.

Included in Microsoft's Forefront portfolio are Internet Security & Acceleration Server 2006, Microsoft's edge security gateway that provides network protection against Internet-based threats, and Antigen, Microsoft's enterprise antivirus and antispam software.

Microsoft announced it would brand its next-generation security products with the Forefront moniker in June at its TechEd conference in Boston. Matthews said Dexter + Chaney has asked Microsoft to stop using the name but the company has declined, which spurred Dexter + Chaney's legal action.

Dexter + Chaney has 70 employees and had US$14.2 million in revenues in 2005. Leslie Ruiter, Shelley Hall and Bradford Axel of the Seattle law firm Stokes, Lawrence P.S., are representing the company in its suit against Microsoft.

Microsoft spokesman Jack Evans said Friday that his company understands the importance and value of trademarks. However, he said Microsoft's use of the Forefront brand does not infringe on Dexter + Chaney's use because their products and audiences are so different.

"In this instance, we believe the specific use of the name Microsoft Forefront will not cause any confusion in the marketplace," he said. "Microsoft's product is a back-end, server-based security product while Dexter & Chaney's product is a client-based software product intended specifically for managing construction projects."

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