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Little guy sues PC giant

Microsoft stole his trademark, Californian says

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SAN FRANCISCO — Entrepreneur Ken Belanger is certain he has a strong case against Microsoft for trademark infringement, but a conventional lawsuit would never stand a chance against the software giant's cache of high-paid lawyers.

So Belanger is taking his beef to a place made for little guys — small claims court.

Claiming that Microsoft Corp. illegally latched on to the name "Pocket PC" for its handheld computer operating system, Belanger paid $20 last week to file a small claims complaint against Microsoft, which is based in Redmond, Wash. The dispute is scheduled to be heard Feb. 22 before a small claims commissioner in San Francisco.

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.

Although Belanger never officially registered Pocket PC with the federal government, legal experts say he still may hold a "common-law" trademark on the name in California. A common-law trademark is established whenever someone sells a commercial product under a specific name, said Harvey Dunn, an intellectual property attorney in Dallas.

"It doesn't sound like a totally frivolous case," Dunn said. "The ultimate question may come down to whether anyone would confuse what he is marketing with what Microsoft is marketing."

Belanger contends the name belongs to him because he began selling a gag gift called the Pocket PC in 1985. The product, meant to spoof the high-tech industry's hype about small computing devices, is a plastic poker chip bearing a unique serial number.

About 1,200 people have paid $6.95 to $9.95 for Belanger's Pocket PC through the years. He thinks he could sell as many as 500,000 more Pocket PCs online if Microsoft would stop trespassing on his trademark.

If he wins, Belanger reasons 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.

"This isn't about holding up Microsoft. This is about taking back something that is already mine," Belanger said.

Microsoft declined to comment specifically about Belanger's suit, but spokesman Jim Dresler said it views "Pocket PC" as a generic term.

He said that "Pocket PC" is used to describe an operating system for a variety of handheld computers made by a long list of manufacturers that include Compaq, Toshiba, Hewlett-Packard and Casio.