Microsoft’s Ridiculous Settlement With a 17-Year-Old

A simple pun turned into a huge PR disaster


Ayush Baldota

3 years ago | 4 min read

It was 2003. Mike Rowe was just an ordinary 17-year old Canadian student.

Like every other student, Rowe wanted to make some extra side cash, so he decided to offer his graphic and design services and make a couple of bucks here and there. The internet was booming. What else would be the best place to showcase his work.

He decided to create a small website with all his designs and graphic work.

When he sat down to buy a name for his website, he tried to be a little creative. Mike had a funny, playful, and humorous personality.

He noticed that when his name Mike Rowe was said loudly, it sounded like micro. So to have a bit of fun, he bought in August 2003. His website sounded like, the software giant. Mike choose this domain name just as for the pun, but he didn’t know where it was heading.

He started working on the website. Things were going pretty great for Mike. But one day, after three months of the website being up and running, Mike got a letter from Microsoft’s legal team, Smart & Biggar, stating that he should give up his website for trademark infringement.

In return, Microsoft would offer him $10 in compensation.

Yes, I haven’t missed a zero. The same cost paid by Mike to buy the name. Mike wrote back with a counter-offer, the same number but just adding an additional three zeros.

He wrote back saying he had worked hard on the website and had spent money printing stationery but would be willing to give it up for $10,000. Also, he was pretty mad at them for offering $10 for the name.

Smart & Biggar responded with a 25-page letter demanding admission of guilt of cybersquatting and trying to force Microsoft to pay more money. Mike didn’t know what to do.

He had only $1,000 for lawyers, whereas Microsoft had billions. The whole thing was brought into the attention of the media. All of the big media houses covered the story.

People started showing enormous support towards this 17-years-old who was working hard and just trying to make some money through his side hustle.

Mike became a superstar overnight. His website got a massive blast of people from all over the world.

Photo of Mike Rowe |Source:

The next day’s top news headlines were:

  • “Software giant threatens Mikerowesoft ”— ZDNet
  • “Teen fights to keep” — CNN
  • “Microsoft takes on teen over the domain name” — The Age
  • “Microsoft not soft on Mike Rowe” — Cbsnews

As soon as the story went viral, people started showing support to Mike and criticized Microsoft for going so intensely after a 17-year-old kid. In just 12 hours, Mike’s website received more than 250,000 page views causing a server crash.

As the site crashed, a hosting company showed up and asked Mike to put up his website on their servers for free. His website was straining to stay online as so many people were dropping off to wish him luck, and a few also donated money so Mike could hire lawyers for his defense.

A lot of law firms showed up, offering him free consulting.

Microsoft reacted to this by accusing the 17-year-old of straining to keep the website up so he could demand a hefty amount for his domain name. People again started criticizing Microsoft for making this accusation. Mike responded by saying, “This is not the case. I never thought my name would cause Microsoft to take this course of action against me. I just thought it was a good name for my small part-time business.”

Going back and forth a bit, Microsoft came-up with a settlement offer that Mike accepted. Mike gave-up his domain name in exchange for an XBOX. Yes, an Xbox.


“We believe he’s a bright young man with great potential,” said Jim Desler, Microsoft spokesman. “Mike will soon decide on his new name and website, and we have agreed to help redirect any traffic to his new website to ensure he does not lose any business,” said a statement by Microsoft.

As a sign of goodwill, Microsoft said it would also give the teenager training for certification on its products, and he and his parents have been invited to the technology giants’ headquarters in Redmond, Washington.

Mike was not able to comment on the settlement. His father said he was too busy with his exams.

After a few days, he wrote on his website, “Sorry there hasn’t been a lot of news posted by me lately, I have been very busy with school, exams, the media, the new website, and settling with Microsoft.”

In Microsoft’s defense, they also said: “We take our trademark seriously, but in this case, maybe a little too seriously.”

There was nothing wrong with Microsoft negotiating for $10,000, but the problem occurred because they took actions without acknowledging their position and also the status of their opponent. But in the end, Microsoft got control of the domain, and Mike also got a good deal for the domain name.

What we can learn from this incident:

  • Not to show extensive power if your opponent is weaker than you. They will steal all the sympathy.
  • Pre-Calculate what every move will cost you. A wrong move can result in paying too high a cost.

Originally published on medium.


Created by

Ayush Baldota







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