Dell's attempt to register 'cloud computing' as a trademark have taken a setback, after the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) ruled that it has become a generic term used by many companies.
In denying Dell's application, the USPTO included dozens of news stories and other material supporting its contention that cloud computing is a widely-used term of art for the technology industry.
The term refers to computing services that are delivered to end users over the Internet, often from a remote data centre. It has been applied to many types of services, including storage services like Amazon's S3, online anti-spam services, and hosted applications such as Salesforce.com's customer relationship management service.
If Dell were allowed to trademark the term it could send dozens of other vendors scrambling to find an alternative buzzword to describe their services and avoid messy lawsuits. IBM, Microsoft, SAP, Yahoo and Google all have employed the term cloud computing to promote their services.
The USPTO described its decision as "non-final". Dell has six months to file a response or the USPTO will abandon the application.
Proponents of cloud services say they can help users cut costs because they don't have to invest in buying and managing their own hardware and software. But the model also means subscribers can be left stranded when a service has problems. Amazon's S3 suffered an outage last month which temporarily affected Twitter, which uses S3 to host images such as user avatars.