The subtext of the trademark battle over Intel's numbers: A long-lasting feud with AMD
Most members of the executive staff remembered the poor experiences that Intel had with the i286 second sources. We wanted to obtain equivalent value in exchange for a i386 second source. Intel and Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) had agreed each company would earn points that could be used to evaluate technology exchanges. But by 1987, there were no acceptable AMD products for exchange, and nothing was expected for at least two years; AMD had no way to earn second source rights to the 386. We decided that we would not transfer the 386 to AMD unless we believed that we were actually going to get valuable products in return. Thus, there was no second source arrangement with any 386 competitor other than one that allowed IBM to make a portion of its internal consumption.
"If the 80386 remains a single-source system, then you can be sure Intel will single-source all its future microprocessors, and the paranoid designers will look elsewhere fast," Dvorak wrote in a 1987 column for PC Magazine.And because Intel was making its own processors entirely under its own corporate umbrella, suddenly its trademarks were worth much more to the company than they were previously.
There was just one problem with that.
"In a three-year period, AMD made over a billion dollars in operating profit. And I was very proud of that billion dollars. But always over my head was the sword of Damocles, that if we lost the court case, AMD was history. So there was tenseness, a tautness in my stomach through all those good years. Even though we were making a billion dollars, I couldn't enjoy the good times."
Why Intel legally lost the ability to trademark its numbered processors
This led Intel into the arms of a company called Lexicon, a firm responsible for coming up with memorable, unique names. The firm was given a few basic requirements—notably, to treat the processor like a key ingredient of the computer.
"The first thing I thought of was the Pentagon, and I thought, Huh, that's pretty interesting, because it's a shape," Placek recalled, adding: "I thought, Wait a minute—we're going from 486 to the fifth generation, the 586."The mark spoke to the same things that the numbers did, but did so in a way that Intel could trademark, and that consumers would specifically ask for in stores."It was one of our great success stories," longtime Intel leader Andy Grove told the magazine. "According to our own internal research, in the late nineties Pentium was a more recognized brand name than Intel—which is actually a little scary."Intel couldn't legally stop AMD or other competitors from using 586 as a name, but Pentium? That was a bit easier to protect.Since this saga went down, Intel has famously become notorious for being aggressive about protecting its trademarks, no matter how big or small the stakes.In 2002, for example, it tried to sue a San Francisco yoga studio because the name of the studio was Yoga Inside, and Intel owned the Intel Inside trademark. (After a settlement, the yoga studio changed its name to Yoga on the Inside.) In 2008, the company went after a small travel agency called Intellife Travel, out of concern the brand could dilute Intel's trademark. (The agency no longer exists, having been acquired by the similar firm Lulutrip in 2009.)Last year, Intel went after a site called InvestorIntel, out of concern people might confuse a news website focused on investing in experimental technologies with a company that sells microprocessors. (That site, InvestorIntel, is still online, but the company abandoned its trademark application earlier this year.)And perhaps most unusual of all, John McAfee had to sue Intel last year in a trademark battle over the use of his own name, because Intel owns McAfee and John McAfee no longer does. Intel had even stopped using McAfee for a time, only to revive it as an independent firm—something the maverick was unable to block in federal court. This case, by the way, is still ongoing.One has to wonder if Intel, as a corporation, is acting out because of the trademark that got away way back when. They lost something important back then, and they probably don't want it to happen again.