A small VoIP company has had to change its name after being threatened with legal action over its use of the word 'cloud' in its name by European Wi-Fi network The Cloud.
Having been threatened with a High Court case, Cloudnet Telecommunications decided to avoid potentially heavy legal costs and give itself the new name by which it is now known, Birchills Telecom.
The two companies don't compete directly but had vaguely similar registered names, Cloudnet Telecommunications Ltd, founded in 2009, and The Cloud Networks Ltd, founded in 2003.
"We were told by The Cloud's legal team to simply change our name in case The Cloud decided, at a later date, to sell telephone systems," said Birchills Telecom founder, Dave Hill.
Despite the name similarity, a check on Companies House register reveals many dozens of companies using the word 'cloud' in their names, including some that operate in the computing sphere, so Burchills now believes there could be a less obvious motive for the threat - bad SEO on Google.
Hill's company was first contacted by The Cloud in August 2010, days after he noticed the latter suffering in Google search returns.
"That was when we got above them on Google," says Hill, who believes that The Cloud might have been annoyed that it was suddenly less prominent to search users. "I have no way of knowing but that's the theory."
"We provide business phone systems and cannot be simply mistaken for the Wi-Fi hotspot provider, and were in no way trying to pass ourselves off as them. We have now had to invest in changing our branding, marketing materials, emails and more, while keeping our customers happy and informed of the changes," adds a miffed Hill.
The company would have fought the demand had it been able to afford the legal costs, which Hill believes would have run to a six-figure sum for each day at the High Court.
The SEO theory is hard to assess retrospectively. Running a Google UK search today will overwhelmingly return Wi-Fi giant 'The Cloud' depending on the precise cloud-related term entered. If the company found itself usurped by a separate company finessing Google's algorithms to get a higher entry that could easily have caused pique. The term 'cloud' is generic which makes standing out in search returns that much harder to begin with.
What Burchills, formerly Cloudnet Telecommunications, has been canny about is generating publicity out of its enforced name change.
The Cloud was asked to comment on the story but had not replied at press time.