Skydrive: A case of mistaken identity

When I first read this headline, I had to check that it wasn’t 1st April.  Could Sky, a television and communications business, really have forced Microsoft to rename its cloud storage solution, Skydrive?

My first reaction was one of incredulity (I thought Apple had the market for petty legal attacks in the bag). In its case, BskyB made reference to customers who, having had problems with Skydrive, contacted the broadcaster’s helpline for support rather than go to Microsoft.

Read through the court transcripts and there are only seventeen such cases of this occurring. Across all of its operating markets the propensity for mistaken identify therefore seems slim to none. Indeed, get under the skin of the case and the problem seems only to be relevant to the <5m customers of BskyB’s internet service (Sky Broadband).

“One [customer] had contacted the helpline as a result of difficulties in accessing attachments sent to her Hotmail account. [Another} had had difficulties printing documents for a meeting and had called the Sky helpline. Sky was her internet provider and because she saw “SkyDrive”, the customer thought it was Sky.” source

If I really (and I mean really) stretch my imagination I can see how a minority of customers could be confused. But is this really justification enough?

“…a Sky customer who is registered blind uses software to read aloud the information displayed in his laptop and iPhone. On 20 March 2012 he was sent an email with attachments. When he clicked on them he was automatically redirected to a link which suggested that he download the SkyDrive application. He did so and when prompted to enter his username and ID, attempted to use his Sky ID. Despite the fact that the link mentioned Microsoft, he thought it was a Sky service. When his details were not accepted he rang Sky customer services. When he was informed that SkyDrive was a Microsoft product he commented to the call agent that it was totally misleading to call the product SkyDrive and that he had assumed that it was a Sky product because of its name. [The customer] stated that she was totally confused by the appearance of the reference to SkyDrive having no recollection of having signed up for the service. She was also a Sky customer and assumed that she had been signed up by Sky without her permission. She rang Sky in order to ask how to remove SkyDrive from her computer and was amazed to discover that it was not provided by Sky at all.source

However (and this is really BskyB’s only defense), the use of the word Sky to denote an online storage environment is far from being an accepted noun.

Cloud yes, but Sky?

Microsoft’s own research into this seems to have back-fired under cross-examination.

“In this regard, Microsoft relies upon the evidence of Ms Connolly who undertook internet research into the use of the business names, trade marks and brand names and signs incorporating the word “SKY” whether as a prefix or a suffix. She also researched the use of the word “SKY” in the names of applications available for download from the UK version of the Apple “appStore” and a search for articles in the press and online sources in which “SKY” or “SKIES” had been used in a descriptive manner in relation to cloud storage services.

She found 148 SKY names and 429 SKY prefix apps which she had found on the internet. She also found numerous press articles which refer to “hard drive in the sky”, “locker in the sky” and “storage in the sky”. source

Mr Purvis summarized her findings in this regard as approximately 27 uses over 8 years throughout the world, including hi-tech journals many of which repeat the same thing and therefore, suggested that it was far from meaningful.

“[the court] submits that if one removes literal uses and references such as “pie in the sky”, “reach for the sky”, ‘sky’s the limit”, “sky high” and “clear skies ahead” which I accept are not uses of “sky” in a descriptive sense to indicate the internet, one is left with about six uses of the term “sky” as a metaphor for the internet during the period from 2011 to January 2013. It is in this context that he says that the instances in which “sky” has been used as a metaphor for the internet is miniscule.” source

With the no evidence to support Microsoft’s contention that “sky” was descriptive in the sense that it is allusive of, or a metaphor for, the internet, the was little defense.

Now, while the number of documented instances of confusion are limited, it should be noted that Sky only archives helpline calls for six months. Given this, someone felt that there were enough examples of confusion to warrant the court’s intervention.

Had Microsoft been better at advertising Skydrive things might have been different.  It appears that up until recently, attachments sent through required a Skydrive account. As a Hotmail (sorry, Outlook) customer I was very aware of the sudden changes and appearance /integration of Skydrive into my email account. But the fact remains, in almost every documented case the [confused] customer was using a Microsoft service at the time.

“…the person who telephoned was actually using their Microsoft Hotmail account at the time”

“…[the customer] was actually looking at the SkyDrive webpage which was requesting a Windows Live ID”

“….[the customer] wanted to know how to rid her Microsoft Hotmail account of SkyDrive.

Heck, one was even trying to download Microsoft Flight Simulator. In order to do so he needed to register with Hotmail, Messenger or SkyDrive. source

I want to be politically correct here, but I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that the court’s ruling was based on the evidence of customers well behind on the technology curve. Whether, that’s fair, and whether any ruling like this has to be based on a lowest common denominator, is open for debate.

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