I don’t think too many people are surprised that the U.S. Patent Office shot down Dell’s attempts to trademark the term “cloud computing” this week. What surprised me is that no one has tried this tack before, particularly using cloud computing’s antecedents such as grid computing, utility computing and so on.
What Dell would have done with its trademark is hard to determine, given that strict enforcement would have dulled the currency of the term among other vendors and users. Since it’s hard to imagine Dell offering a cloud computing service, the best I can come up with is the branding of its infrastructure products as “made for cloud computing,” or something of that ilk.
This is not, however, the only concept or buzzword in the industry that should be free from such shackles. Consider some of the following:
Service oriented architecture: Most people in the IT industry are by now familiar with the idea of loosely coupled applications that transform the way processes are carried out in the enterprise, but there’s still some debate as to what a “real” SOA is. Some companies have offered variations on this theme, such as SAP’s Enterprise Service Architecture, which has only added to the confusion.
Electronic Health Record: Maybe it’s everything about a patient’s history of care and treatment. Maybe it’s more site-specific (in which case electronic patient record might be used instead). It could be basic patient demographics. Possibly (if you’re in the States) it’s a compilation of a patients’ bills. Whatever it is, it’s not ready to be copyrighted.
Virtual Machine: With the mad rush to consolidate server infrastructure, it’s a wonder no one has tried to make a claim for the term we use to talk about those non-physical instances of compute machinery. Note to VMware, Microsoft and Citrix: don’t even think about it.
Smart phone: Some Mac loyalists would probably argue that Apple’s iPhone is the only device worthy of this description, but for the most part we’re still using it to talk about the potential of portable communication devices, not something to which any one vendor could lay claim.
Web 2.0: Should be avoided just for its likely brief shelf life. To do otherwise would be about as wise as trademarking “dot com,” which Sun (“We put the dot in dot-com”) came dangerously close to doing circa 1999.
Software as a service: Would anyone even want it? Salesforce.com might seem to deserve it based on its success with the model, but it still has a better ring to it than application service provider (ASP), which is now largely forgotten.
E-discovery: A piece of jargon that will only gain traction as new regulations come into force over the next year or so, and there are plenty of firms that would be all too quick to pay more attention to a supplier that had cornered the market on the phrase. Enterprise legal departments might even appreciate its value as a piece of intellectual property, but that’s beside the point.
I don’t think many companies are going to follow Dell’s lead, and those that do might opt for terms other than these. My point is that to improve our use of technology for business purposes we need to be able to discuss issues freely. And that means taking an open source approach to language.