Microsoft Satellite Map Project Sued Over Name

Microsoft's TerraServer-USA satellite imagery project has been slapped with a trademark lawsuit from a small North Carolina company with a confusingly similar name.

Terraserver.com filed the suit on Friday in North Carolina federal court, seeking monetary damages and asking that Microsoft be stopped from using the TerraServer name.

TerraServer-USA is a ten-year-old Microsoft research project that makes satellite images and maps from the U.S. Geological Survey freely available over the Internet. Microsoft got involved in the project because it wanted to experiment with Windows and SQL Server, processing large amounts of data in a high-performance computing environment.

In 2005 the project was rolled into Microsoft's Virtual Earth product, but Microsoft continues to maintain the TerraServer-USA.com Web site.

In court filings, Terraserver.com, which initially worked with Microsoft and Compaq on the effort, says it has held the Terra Server trademark since March 2000. It also owns the trademark for Terraserver-usa, the court filings state. Terraserver.com was formerly known as Aerial Images.

Although TerraServer-USA was years ahead of its time in the 1990s, in the past few years it has taken a back seat to products that use higher-resolution images, such as Virtual Earth and Google Earth, said Adena Schutzberg, executive editor with Directions Magazine, a geospatial industry publication.

But TerraServer-USA was popular in its day, she added. "Because they supported some of the standards for mapping, it was a nice free way, back in the day, to get free imagery of small towns and counties."

However, there was confusion between Terraserver.com and Microsoft's more high-profile effort, she added. "Everybody knew of Terraserver as a Microsoft site."

TerraServer-USA does not appear to be an active research project at Microsoft. It has not had any news updates posted to its Web site in nearly three years, and one of the Microsoft researchers who started the project, Jim Gray, vanished at sea off the coast of Northern California last year.

Microsoft was unable to immediately comment on the case. Terraserver.com Chief Operating Officer Brian Randy Funk also declined to comment.

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