UK teacher’s Word Windows literacy tool sparks Microsoft trademark dispute

Kate McKenzie from Northampton receives letter opposing name of device created for people with dyslexia

It is one of the biggest companies in the world, valued at more than $1tn (£840bn) and feted for completely changing the face of technology in the office and the home.

But that has not stopped Microsoft from getting flustered over a small plastic reading tool created by a teacher from Northampton.

Kate McKenzie has found herself in a trademark dispute with the technology company over her children’s literacy device, Word Windows.

The plastic tool can be placed on top of a book page to isolate individual words, letters and their sounds in a window to help children and adults who have dyslexia.

Shortly before she was due to launch her product in July, McKenzie, 40, received a letter from Microsoft. “I thought I was on the home stretch, but then they contacted me to say they opposed the business name and the trademark, which was a double whammy,” she said.

“It was obviously intimidating. My heart just sank. It’s been a two-year process just to get to this point, bringing a product to market is so difficult, there’s so little funding out there.

“I just thought ‘God, what am I going to do now?’ You can’t beat Microsoft unless you’ve got deep pockets.”

McKenzie said it would be difficult to change her product’s name as she had already spent money on packaging, branding and manufacturing.

Although the letter left her with her head in her hands, she said her husband managed to see the funny side of Microsoft’s lawyers scouring Northampton suburbs.

“He was having a little chuckle about it,” she said. “Don’t you think it’s quite funny that the giant of Microsoft has found you in Duston?”

Microsoft said it “cannot comment on ongoing legal matters”.

McKenzie decided to create the tool as she struggled with reading as a pupil due to her dyslexia, and her son has faced similar problems.

“The problem with dyslexic techniques at the moment is that you take the word they’re struggling with, and you write it on a separate page. But that doesn’t help somebody who is trying to fluently read a story and gain enjoyment,” McKenzie said.

“This does it there and then on the page, so it’s very quick. The English language is built up with lots of prefixes and suffixes, so actually being able to highlight those and pick them out very clearly, on a book, is very helpful.”

Last year McKenzie won a grant from Business and IP Centre Northamptonshire to help launch the product.

The tool is designed to be recycled and 30p from every one bought will go into a separate community interest company helping to raise UK literacy levels.

“I wanted to try to tackle that problem of reading becoming something that’s really feared and hated among some children,” said McKenzie. “I hope that the product is really successful, but I also really want to actually tackle what is a really big issue in the UK and potentially in other countries.”


Jessica Murray Midlands correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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