Bill Gates, the ELF and me

“…But soft, what light through yonder window shines…?”  ‘ Not Microsoft, that’s for sure!’

In January 2008 I arrived at Millbrook Resort golf course at the same time as Bill Gates.  Bill arrived by car, driven from his private jet parked at Queenstown airport; I arrived by cycle, complete with panier bags, from the opposite direction, having  just biked at somewhat less than the speed of thought over the Crown Range from Wanaka en route to Te Anau and back.

Unlike Bill I wasn’t staying at the resort; I’d merely stopped to replenish my water bottle in the stream that runs through the golf course.  I only picked up on the propinquity when reading next day’s paper. But had I known that we  had a brewing intellectual property issue with Microsoft, which is still not resolved, I would have got pumped up, got  off  my bike and knocked on his chalet door.

Three months before we had just run our first Education Leaders Forum (ELF 07) at Terrace Downs. This was an across-the-education-spectrum event to look at what is happening upstream and downstream of a particular sector and to explore possibilities for knowledge sharing at the boundaries.

We weren’t going to call the annual event “Education Leaders Forum”; that was initially only a working title.  We were aware that the New Zealand Business Roundtable’s education group is called the Education Forum, so there was the potential for confusion, and the acronym ELF was a little unfortunate-until we thought about it and realised that, in the wake of the LOR series, it is very apposite.  

The average Elf, as we now know, has a slim and nimble body and the special ability, compared to other races, to hold their breath longer as well as being better able to jump from high places. This was all very appropriate for an unofficial whole learning system initiative.   (We won’t get into Elf Camps; without putting the boot in they are not flavour du jour.)

We were a little surprised to find out a few months later, when we were in the throes of organising ELF 08, that a Microsoft- organised event in Paris, under the UNESCO banner, was promoted as “Education Leaders Forum 2008” and “ELF 08”, especially as I had tried to enlist the Microsoft New Zealand office in our inaugural event the year before and shown them promotional materials.

 My attempts to have some light shone on the matter show that, despite Bill Gates excellent book “Business at the Speed of Thought”, there are  some black holes in Microsoft’s corporate communication process which are difficult to illumine at any speed. 

Here are excerpts from the e-mail correspondence initiated by me to try to ascertain whether we had coincidentally used a term and an abbreviation already in currency or whether Microsoft had done the same, either unwittingly or in pursuit of the principle that imitation is the most sincere form of flattery.

 We have waited expectantly over the 8 months since our first enquiry for a simple answer to a simple question. This is almost the span of time from conception to birth for humankind. (Elves have a somewhat speeded up reproductive cycle).  

Despite this gestation period, little of substance has been volunteered by Microsoft.  What we have learned has had to be extracted in micro amounts, softly softly, at something less than the speed of thought. 

 Just for the Record:

From: lyall@lukey.co.nz [mailto:lyall@lukey.co.nz]  

Sent: 22 January 2009 04:15 

To: Greg Butler (UK)                                                                                             

Subject: (Education Leaders’ Forum 2008) ELF 08

 <When did ELF start? ie was 2008 the first event?> 

This message was generated from a contact form at: ttp://blogs.msdn.com/elf08/default.aspx

 —–Original Message—–
From: Dolores Puxbaumer (Intl Vendor) [mailto:v-dolpu@microsoft.com]
Sent: Friday, 20 February 2009 5:41 a.m.
To: lyall@lukey.co.nz
Subject: FW: (Education Leaders’ Forum 2008):ELF 08 

<Dear Mr. Lyall,

 <Thank you for your question. The Education Leaders Forum 2008 is part of the Education Leaders Briefing series. 

Whilst the Education Leaders Briefing (coinciding with the BETT exhibition http://www.bettshow.co.uk and the UK Government’s Learning and Technology World Forum, every year in January) focuses on primary and secondary education, the Education Leaders Forum discusses tertiary education. 

Held jointly with the UNESCO from 7-8 July 2008 it was the first event targeting tertiary education. Following up to the success of last year’s event UNESCO and Microsoft will continue to deliver this working conference in 2009. 

Exact dates are still to be confirmed but it will most likely take place in early July again. Once dates are confirmed we will share it with the community via the blog. Please watch out for updates. 

In case of questions don’t hesitate to contact us or post a question via the blog.> 

Yours sincerely,

Dolores Puxbaumer 

From: Lyall Lukey [mailto:lyall@smartnet.co.nz]  

Sent: Friday, 20 February 2009 11:30 a.m.
To: ‘v-dolpu@microsoft.com’
Subject: UNESCO (Microsoft) ELF 08 and New Zealand ELF 08

 <Thanks you Dolores 

This is a Tale of Two ELFs! As you will see, we started the Education Leaders Forum in New Zealand in 2007 and have since used the abbreviation ELF 07, ELF 08 and ELF 09. Here is last year’s logo… 

Here are details of our first two annual events:

http://www.smartnet.co.nz/events/ELF/2007.htm   

http://www.smartnet.co.nz/events/ELF/2008.htm  

 …We approached Microsoft NZ in March 2007 for some sponsorship and sent a concept document regarding our inaugural Education Leaders Forum… While there was some interest in ELF 07, our discussions did not proceed to a formal proposal at the time, but we were asked to stay in touch. 

The evolution of the two ELF 08 events is quite likely just coincidental, but given the sequence of events and our precedence, we think it would be only fair if you amended your long title and the abbreviated version to avoid any confusion, for example in web searches and repositories of resources following the two different events. Perhaps you should add the word Tertiary to your forum event ie Tertiary Education Leaders Forum. That would be more descriptive. (Our on-going series draws people across all education and training sectors, including the workplace)…. 

…We hope we can work with Microsoft in good faith to remove a repeat of the ELF08 duplication and perhaps explore partnership possibilities … in New Zealand-a smaller canvas than UNESCO but a great test bed for innovative new ways of learning and working!>

Best regards

Lyall Lukey
Steering Team Convenor
Education Leaders Forum

 _______________________________________
SmartNet
Mancan House, 236 Manchester Street
P O Box 13-577, Christchurch 8141,
New Zealand
Phone: (+64 3) 366-7874; Fax: (+64 3) 366-7807
http://www.smartnet.co.nz
From: Dolores Puxbaumer (Intl Vendor) [mailto:v-dolpu@microsoft.com]
Sent: Friday, 12 June 2009 4:13 p.m.
To: lyall@lukey.co.nz
Subject: FW: (Education Leaders’ Forum 2008) : ELF 08

 <Dear Mr. Lyall,

 Microsoft has been using the Education Leaders Briefing (ELF) for many years. The 2008 ELF posted a press release here: http://portal.unesco.org/ci/en/ev.php-URL_ID=27349&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_SECTION=201.html.  The specific reference to earlier use of Education Leaders Forum was this: “He also expressed his gratitude to Microsoft for organizing the Forum under the global UNESCO/Microsoft agreement that he had signed with Bill Gates in 2004.”>

 Yours sincerely,

Dolores Puxbaumer

From: Lyall Lukey [mailto:lyall@smartnet.co.nz]
Sent: Saturday, 13 June 2009 11:49 a.m.
To: ‘Dolores Puxbaumer (Intl Vendor)’
Subject: RE: (Education Leaders’ Forum 2008):ELF 08

 <Thank you Dolores 

The term “Education Leaders Briefing” is not the same as “Education Leaders Forum”.  It is the later which lends itself to the acronym ELF or ELF 08. We have used both versions since 2007 for a New Zealand cross education sector annual event. (see below).

 I referred to this in the e-mail* I sent you (and copied Chris Liddell, Microsoft) after your response on 20/2/ 2009 to my initial enquiry.

I have had no further response to this (apart from your virtual repeat of your earlier response received today). 

We do not wish to look as if we are copying your use of both the full and shortened versions of ”Education Leaders Forum” when we may have used one or the other or both before you ( if, indeed, you used the term Education Leaders Briefing up to 2008 and only used ”Education Leaders Forum” and ELF 08 etc from that point, which is what I’m tried to clarify). 

Please refer to my response of 20/2/ 2009 below-which includes outlines our approach to Microsoft New  Zealand in 2007 about our ELF07.  

For details of this year’s Education Leaders Forum in New Zealand  visit http://www.smartnet.co.nz/events/ELF/2009.htm >

 Best regards

Lyall Lukey
Steering Team Convenor
Education Leaders Forum

From: Liz Butowicz [mailto:lizbu@microsoft.com]
Sent: Tuesday, 23 June 2009 7:04 a.m.
To: lyall@smartnet.co.nz
Subject: FW: UNESCO (Microsoft) ELF 08/09 and New Zealand ELF 07, 08,09

 <Dear Mr. Lyall – 

I am following up to your email correspondence with Dolores Puxbaumer. There was an unfortunate typo in the reply that I sent to Dolores to use in response to your request that she sent to you on 12 June: 

Microsoft has been using the Education Leaders Briefing (ELF) for many years. The 2008 ELF posted a press release here: http://portal.unesco.org/ci/en/ev.php-URL_ID=27349&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_SECTION=201.html.  The specific reference to earlier use of Education Leaders Forum was this: “He also expressed his gratitude to Microsoft for organizing the Forum under the global UNESCO/Microsoft agreement that he had signed with Bill Gates in 2004.” 

It should have read Education Leaders Forum (ELF) rather than Briefing – as you can see from the link specified, Microsoft has been using the term Education Leaders Forum since 2004.> 

Sincerely,

Liz Butowicz 

Sr. Education Marketing Manager, Microsoft Corporation

From: Lyall Lukey [mailto:lyall@smartnet.co.nz]
Sent: Tuesday, 23 June 2009 11:06 a.m.
To: ‘Liz Butowicz’
Cc: ‘v-dolpu@microsoft.com’
Subject: RE: UNESCO (Microsoft) ELF 08/09 and New Zealand ELF 07, 08,09

 <Thank you Liz 

That (almost) answers my question. However, the 2008 source does not quite cover off the question of when the term “Educational Leaders Forum” was first used in the UNESCO/Microsoft context-ie before 2008: “He also expressed his gratitude to Microsoft for organizing the Forum under the global UNESCO/Microsoft agreement that he had signed with Bill Gates in 2004.”  

Can you give me other on-line sources for the use of “Educational Leaders Forum” before 2008?  

I am still interested in exploring synergies between Microsoft in New Zealand and our national Forum (see below) if you can point me in the right direction.> 

Best regards

Lyall Lukey
Steering Team Convenor
Education Leaders Forum 
 

From: Lyall Lukey [mailto:lyall@smartnet.co.nz]
Sent: Thursday, July 23, 2009 9:54 PM
To: Liz Butowicz; Dolores Puxbaumer (Intl Vendor)
Subject: FW: UNESCO (Microsoft) ELF 08/09 and New Zealand ELF 07, 08,09

 <Hi Liz and Dolores 

Apart from Dolores’ automated out of office response neither of you have replied to my e-mail below. I would appreciate a prompt response. I am tracking the electronic paper trail and it’s getting rather cold.> 

Regards

Lyall Lukey 

From: Liz Butowicz [mailto:lizbu@microsoft.com]
Sent: Monday, 27 July 2009 2:34 a.m.
To: Lyall Lukey; Dolores Puxbaumer (Intl Vendor)
Subject: RE: UNESCO (Microsoft) ELF 08/09 and New Zealand ELF 07, 08,09

 <Dear Mr. Lukey – 

I apologize for the delay in responding to your email – I am doing research to provide answers to your questions below. Thank you for your patience.> 

Liz

From: Lyall Lukey [mailto:lyall@smartnet.co.nz]
Sent: Wednesday, August 12, 2009 8:16 PM
To: Liz Butowicz; Dolores Puxbaumer (Intl Vendor)
Subject: RE: UNESCO (Microsoft) ELF 08/09 and New Zealand ELF 07, 08,09

 <Hi Liz 

I expected a reply by now.>

Best regards

Lyall Lukey

From: Liz Butowicz [mailto:lizbu@microsoft.com]
Sent: Tuesday, 18 August 2009 8:07 a.m.
To: Lyall Lukey
Cc: Dolores Puxbaumer (Intl Vendor)
Subject: RE: UNESCO (Microsoft) ELF 08/09 and New Zealand ELF 07, 08,09

 <Dear Mr. Lukey, 

Thank you for your follow up email from July 23rd. We apologize for the delay in responding, but we wanted to be sure we were clear on your question.  As we understand it, you are looking to find out the date that Microsoft started using the “Education Leadership Forum (ELF)” terminology.  We confirm that Microsoft has been offering educational leadership events with various titles for a number of years.  The 2008 conference title was indeed called Education Leadership Forum (ELF) and was offered in conjunction with UNESCO in Paris, France.  Given that naming rights are territorially limited, we presume that you are not claiming any likelihood of confusion between our offering in Paris, France with your event in New Zealand.  

Please let us know if you have any further questions.>

 Thank you,

Liz

From: Lyall Lukey [mailto:lyall@smartnet.co.nz]
Sent: Thursday, 20 August 2009 5:27 p.m.
To: ‘lizbu@microsoft.com’
Cc: ‘v-dolpu@microsoft.com’
Subject: RE: UNESCO (Microsoft) ELF 08/09 and New Zealand ELF 07, 08,09

 <Dear Ms Butowicz 

You say:  “Thank you for your follow up email from July 23rd. We apologize for the delay in responding, but we wanted to be sure we were clear on your question.”

 I say:  The delay in responding is to an e-mail dated 23rd of June-and much earlier correspondence. The e-mail of July 23 was simply one of several prompts I sent when I had not received a reply to my very clear question.

 You say: “As we understand it, you are looking to find out the date that Microsoft started using the “Education Leadership Forum (ELF)” terminology.” (sic)  

I say: Yes-all my communications make very clear that the question is: when did Microsoft start using the  specific “Education Leaders Forum” and “ELF” terminology?  (Not, as you’ve referred to it earlier the “Education Leaders Briefing (ELF)” or, now, the “Education LeadershipForum (ELF)”. Back in February Dolores did refer, correctly, to your “Education Leaders Forum 2008”.)

You now say: We confirm that Microsoft has been offering educational leadership events with various titles for a number of years.  The 2008 conference title was indeed called Education Leadership Forum (ELF) and was offered in conjunction with UNESCO in Paris, France.” 

I say: My question had nothing to do with other prior educational leadership events with various titles for a number of years.”  The subject line makes it clear that we were talking about your ELF 08 and 09 and our ELF 07, 08 and 09.  The content in this long drawn out correspondence clearer, which started in January 2009, makes it even clearer. Your previous substantive response in June was clearly (or rather unclearly) obfuscation. In it you said:

 “Microsoft has been using the Education Leaders Briefing (ELF) for many years. The 2008 ELF posted a press release here: http://portal.unesco.org/ci/en/ev.php-URL_ID=27349&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_SECTION=201.html.  The specific reference to earlier use of Education Leaders Forum was this: “He also expressed his gratitude to Microsoft for organizing the Forum under the global UNESCO/Microsoft agreement that he had signed with Bill Gates in 2004.”   

I say: This is clearly not a “specific reference to earlier use of Education Leaders Forum”. As I have already pointed out, in this paragraph you refer to “Education Leaders Briefing (ELF)”. For that the acronym would surely be ELB.

It turns out that-as I thought from the start-that you had only been using “Education Leaders Forum” and  “ELF” etc since 2008, a year after we started using “Education Leaders Forum” and “ELF 07” etc. and-more to the point- after we talked to your New Zealand regional office about being involved in the inaugural 2007 Education Leaders Forumand showed them promotional collateral.

You say: “Given that naming rights are territorially limited, we presume that you are not claiming any likelihood of confusion between our offering in Paris, France with your event in New Zealand.” 

I say: In a connected virtual world, with search engines like Google, I am, indeed, claiming not just the possibility but the likelihood of confusion in cyberspace. This confusion cuts both ways. In the real world New Zealanders attend UNESCO meetings and a Microsoft-supported event under the ELF terminology could cause confusion-or, at the very least, questions about originality and derivation. 

But more to the point, I wanted to clarify the fact of first use by us, as we’ve finally and painfully established, versus second use by you, whether your use is a case of coincidence or copycatting.  I represent a small organization in a small country. You represent a big organisation, in a large country, with a global mandate (and with a New Zealander in a key leadership role). Embedded in our correspondence below there are issues of public relations, good corporate citizenship aspects and credibility, not to mention openness and timeliness.

 At the very inception I offered a positive way through… This is still our position. This matter should be seen as a public relations issue, not a legal one. Now that the situation is clear regarding who first used
“Education Leaders Forum” and “ELF 08” in those specific forms first, namely us, we think that our persevering and constructive approach deserves positive engagement and action in the two areas suggested, not any further delays.

 I therefore look forward to your early response.>

 Yours sincerely

Lyall Lukey
Steering Team Convenor
Education Leaders Forum

From: Liz Butowicz [mailto:lizbu@microsoft.com]
Sent: Wednesday, 2 September 2009 6:24 a.m.
To: Lyall Lukey
Subject: RE: UNESCO (Microsoft) ELF 08/09 and New Zealand ELF 07, 08,09

 Dear Mr. Lukey,

I have received your response and email does not seem to be the appropriate avenue for communication regarding this topic.  I have forwarded the correspondence below to Microsoft’s Legal Department and the appropriate business team for a response and they will respond to your inquiry shortly. 

Thank you,

Liz

 From: Lyall Lukey [mailto:lyall@smartnet.co.nz]
Sent: Wednesday, 2 September 2009 9:49 a.m.
To: ‘Liz Butowicz’
Subject: RE: UNESCO (Microsoft) ELF 08/09 and New Zealand ELF 07, 08,09

 Dear Ms Butowicz 

Email has certainly not been a very effective means of communication, at least at your end. The replies have scarcely been at the Speed of Thought and the content less than clear and transparent. 

We will forward the correspondence to our Public Relations Department. Some recent large corporate public relations disasters-I’m thinking of United Airlines, in particular-have come about because of the power of new social media to redress the imbalance between individuals or small organisations on the one hand and large corporates on the other. 

Yours sincerely

Lyall Lukey
Steering Team Convenor
Education Leaders Forum

Footnote  

It’s always the way. Our Public  Relations Department had popped out for lunch and anyway was too busy promoting  our ELF09 event (with some success: it’s sold out). She suggested that I press WordPress into action and await further developments.

 We were on the verge of enlisting the Conchord’s New York manager Murray to sort this out face to face with Bill Gates,  until some spoilsport told us that, unlike Elves and Elvis, he (Murray, not Bill) doesn’t really exist.  Oh well, there’s always Helen Clark and she definitely does exist,  in her new reincarnation at the UN  in New York.

That should scare them.

Postscript to Footnote 13 May 2011

Microsoft’s Legal Department have obviously been a bit busy since 2009-and will be busier still with the current Skype buyout. We haven’t received any more (non) communications from anyone in the organisation of the legal or any other persuasion. Meanwhile our ELF11 is almost all hot to trot:
http://www.smartnet.co.nz/events/ELF/2011.htm

BLINKS

Light Reading – Video – CES Slideshow: Bill Gates Keynote … 7 Jan 2008  Business At The Speed Of Thought

Bret McKenzie (ELF) (0:29)

http://www.smartnet.co.nz/events/ELF/2009.htm  Education Leaders Forum, Rotorua 14/15 October 2009

 Lyall Lukey 30 August 2009   http://www.lukey.co.nz/

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One Response to Bill Gates, the ELF and me

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