The full story of how Bluetooth got it’s name, by Jim Kardach.
First I would like to thank my buddy Vince Holton for allowing me to update this article for publication in the very last Incisor magazine issue (thanks Vince). Vince was there from the start, and about 20 years ago we were sitting in a bar in the Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo during off hours of the Bluetooth Conference, and I told this story. After I wrapped up the story Vince approached me and asked me if I would write this story down and publish it in the Incisor. I told Vince to look at the table which was filled with empty beer bottles and I indicated that because I told the story, I didn’t have to buy a single beer. Vince indicated that because it was June 8th (Bluetooth conference) the Monte Carlo Grand Prix had just finished and was still setup. Further he had two Ferraris and he would take me for a lap around the Grand Prix track in exchange for me writing this article. Simon Ellis stepped in and indicated he had to take over negotiations and Simon renegotiated such that I would write the article and both Simon and I would get a lap around the Monte Carlo Grand Prix.
To see the Ferrari movie, click this link- https://youtu.be/A1UdtDld-z8
I’ve written this story down a few times over the years, and most people will point to one of my articles (original 3 part Incisor article, and a couple of years later a shorter version in the EE-Times). However I have more insight now, have retired from Intel and have decided to update the original article. It’s long, but is a good tale.
The name is borrowed from a 10th century Danish King, Harald Blätand, or Harald Bluetooth in English. In Denmark he is well known because of a Runic stone he erected in the former capital of Denmark, Jelling. A runic stone is a Scandinavian monument that was erected to honor some occasion or event. This is the larger of two runic stones and celebrates Harald’s father (the second king of Denmark) “Gorm the Old” as well as some of Harald’s achievements. This stone is about 2 meters high, and 2 meters wide at its base and has three faces (like a pyramid). One face is covered by text (in runes) which outlines his achievements, a second face shows a dragon entangled in vines (I’m told this symbolizes the conflict between Christianity and the old religions), and the third face shows a picture of the King himself.
The second stone was erected by Harald’s father (Gorm) in honor of his wife Thyra. As I was to later find out, these particular runic stones are considered the “baptism stones” of Denmark as they were erected close to the creation of Denmark.
Later when I visited Jelling to see the actual stones (with my good friend Orjan Johansson, the Bluetooth program manager from Ericsson), we were told that the stone was lost for six hundred years. Evidently Harald had a disagreement with his son, Sweyn Forkbeard, over religion in Denmark. Harald had just Christianized the kingdom (around 960 AD), and Sweyn thought they should go back to worshiping the old gods (Odin, Thor, Frey, …). Sweyn won this argument (exiling his father in the process), and since this runic stone glorified Harald’s Christianizing of the Danes, Sweyn had it buried. Some six hundred years later a farmer, curious about a large mound in his farm (Denmark is a very flat place), rediscovered the stone.
Orjan (right) and I (left) in Jelling Denmark looking at the Bluetooth stone (I am 6’2”, to the far left is the smaller Thyra stone).
Back in ’97, when forming a short-range wireless Special Interest Group (SIG) I didn’t know any of this. At this time I was working with Ericsson and Nokia, who also had short-range wireless programs, to create a single standard. Intel’s program was called “Biz-RF” (Business RF), Ericsson’s “MC-LINK” and Nokia’s “Low Power RF”. At this time we were trying to decide if we should form our own group, or join an existing standards group and then develop the technology within this existing group. Both Ericsson and Intel had members in an existing SIG called Home-RF, which wanted to do a consumer based wireless technology, and our first thought was to see if we could use this SIG to develop our technology.
To this end, Ericsson’s Sven Mattisson and I presented at a Home-RF SIG meeting which took place in Toronto Canada. I presented Biz-RF, and Sven presented MC-LINK. We received a luke-warm reception of our confusing proposal, and it was at this time I realized we needed a code name for the project which everyone could use. After the Home-RF meeting Sven and I decided to debrief and do a comparison of the Swedish, American and Canadian beers, as served in Toronto pubs.
While drinking beer, my favorite topic of discussion is history and I naturally asked Sven to educate me on Scandinavian history. I indicated that all I knew about Scandinavia involved Vikings running around with horned helmets raiding and looting places, and that they were crazy chiefs.
Sven explained that while he was not an expert on history (he knew more about radios) he was pretty confident Vikings never had horns on their helmets and the Muppet’s Swedish Chef is a stereotype the Swedes have been trying to break for a very long time. However he had read a book called “The Longships”, a historical novel about Vikings, and would relate his country’s history according to this book. As the night went on (and we travelled from pub to pub) Sven related to me a story about a young Swedish lad, Röde Orm (Red Snake), who went on a “Viking”, a word indicating an expedition for trade, discovery and/or adventure. This story was set in a time where King Harald Bluetooth was defending his kingdom (parts of Norway, Denmark and Sweden) from his son Sven Tveskäggs (Sven Forkbeard, around 940AD).
When I arrived back home a book I had ordered about Scandinavian history was waiting for me. As I thumbed through this book, “The Vikings” by Gwyn Jones, I came upon a picture of a rock which had a person carved on it. The picture’s caption read “Runic stones from Jelling in Jutland erected by Gorm the Old and Harald Bluetooth”, and the text of the book indicated the picture depicted the “Chivalry of Harald”. The runic stone had an inscription which read “King Harald had this memorial made for Gorm his father and Thyri his mother: that Harald who won for himself all Denmark and Norway, and made the Danes Christian”.
I hadn’t really remembered much from Toronto, but the name Bluetooth came forward in my memory. It occurred to me the name’s link to Scandinavian history (a 10th century Danish King who united Norway and Denmark), the runic stone with a picture of Harald himself, and the odd word “Bluetooth” could make a pretty good codename for the project.
I digitized the image of the rock (after highlighting Harald with a sharpie marker) and created a foil with the main subject: “Bluetooth” and some bullets stating:
- This is one of two Runic stones erected in his capitol city of Jelling (central Jutland)
- This is the front of the stone depicting the chivalry of Harald.
- The stone’s inscriptions (“runes”) say:
- Harald christianized the Danes
- Harald controlled Denmark and Norway
- Harald thinks notebooks and cellular phones should seamlessly communicate.
On Monday I bounced the proposal off Simon Ellis, who was the marketing manager for Intel mobile data activities. I told Simon I would like to change the name of the program from “Biz-RF” (a shortcut for Business-RF which we always shortened to “Bizarre-F”) to Bluetooth. Simon indicated he thought this was a bad idea (i.e. he made barfing sounds and pointed down his throat). I then showed him the picture of the runic stone.
He took the foil out of my hands, studied it for a few seconds and then said, “can you draw a notebook and cell-phone in his hands?” I quickly updated the picture and handed it back to Simon who then remarked: “I like it”, but then swiftly clarified that this was a codename and marketing would pick a proper name prior to public announcement.
By this time, Simon and I had worked together on different programs for almost 12 years, and enjoyed bringing a bit of humor into our work. While the name Bluetooth represented a 10th century Danish King that brought together the Danes, Norwegians and Swedes (just as our program brought together the PC and telecom industries) the name was funny sounding. It amused us that at some point an Andy Grove or Bill Gates would have to say the word “Bluetooth” in front of an audience with a serious face.
The next hurdle for getting this codename approved was to get legal to do a trademark search. I quickly sent an email off to our lawyer to have a trademark search done on the word “Bluetooth”. I received a quick reply:
There is no way you are going to name a program “Bluetooth”, we require that the codename be a river, lake or city!
I tried a quick bluff, claiming that Bluetooth was actually the English translation of a German village and that I wanted the trademark search done within a week. He quickly replied:
Nice try, no dice. Give me the name of a river.
Next I explained that this was a codename for a Special Interest Group that involved five other companies, four of which didn’t have these rules and to please have the search done within a week.
Assuming the trademark search would go through clean, we next started the process of informing the rest of Intel of the change in the program name; the reaction became one we would become used to: “you’re nuts, we can’t name a program ‘Bluetooth’!”. However my manager allowed us to proceed. He reasoned that no one in their right mind would allow this program to be called “Bluetooth”, and therefore the name would be changed prior to any public announcement (or so he thought).
A week later I finally received the crucial email from legal:
Surprise, surprise, nobody has trademarked “Bluetooth”
I was not surprised.
In December of ’97 all of the major players (Intel, Ericsson, Nokia, IBM and Toshiba) of the “to be formed” SIG met for the first time in a face-to-face meeting in Lund Sweden. Simon and I had discussed how we would get the other members to agree upon a SIG name (it’s always the simple things that are the most difficult), and we finally agreed to just send out a foilset that outlined the initial goals and programs of the “Bluetooth SIG” just prior to leaving for the meeting (which was taking place in Lund Sweden). We created a foil-set template that featured the “altered runic stone” on every foil.
At the meeting in Lund, Sweden we started through our initial presentation and were immediately asked, “What is this Bluetooth?”. We explained, “Every company was using a different codename, and as a SIG we needed a single codename to help identify our united efforts. We picked a codename that would be difficult to identify with short range wireless technology, and at the same time signified the uniting of the computer and telecommunications industries as Harald had united the Danes and Swedes.”
There was complete silence.
Simon quickly added “And, this is only a codename until the marketing group comes up with an ‘official’ name for the SIG.”
There was a sudden burst of conversation as the different groups started talking about what the “real name” of the SIG should be. I glanced over at Simon, who was also looking at me and grinning. We both knew that the SIG would move forward with the code-name “Bluetooth”.
While the marketing group was given the task of delivering the official name, the Program Management (PM) group decided to help them out (despite Marketing’s protests) with a quick naming brainstorm session. The marketing folks at Ericsson had already been hard at work on developing names and presented one of the most memorable:
Flirt – “Getting close without touching”
I’m still puzzled why this wasn’t picked. Another candidate was “Conductor” — a device using the technology could “conduct” an orchestra of devices into a harmonious symphony of productivity. However, one of the engineering minds within the room pointed out that “conductor” was also the metal bit of a wire — and this was supposed to be a wireless technology.
Another proposal was “PAN”, an acronym for “Personal Area Network”. Some involved thought an acronym was too “engineering” for a technology ultimately targeted at consumers. Also, PAN represented only one of the three usage model categories developed for the technology (network access, peripheral cable replacement, and PAN); we didn’t wish to overly emphasize one usage.
The Lund brainstorming session was inconclusive; we would have to conduct further research to find a name. I believe that everyone walked away from that meeting realizing how difficult it would be to pick a name, and we still had to develop the technology (another difficult task)!
In the meantime, work on the technology continued and Intel commissioned the first Bluetooth usage video, which was developed over the ’97 Christmas holiday. The video was about a clumsy sales/marketing guy who needs to make an important presentation, but instead gets locked in a closet only to be saved by “Wireless-RF”. I had to complain to Simon, “Shouldn’t a video about a technology mention the name or codename of that technology?” And the slogan “Wireless-RF sets you free” did not promote the name of the technology! Simon indicated that while the codename was Bluetooth, the official name was yet to be picked and they wanted a generic name that would allow the video to be used even after the official name was announced. After digging further, it turned out that the marketing engineer in charge of the video didn’t really care for the codename and refused to use it. However, I was able to acquire a copy of the video and edit the codename back into it. Later when it became obvious that we would have to launch with the word Bluetooth, I grabbed a copy of the video and changed the tagline to “Bluetooth SETS YOU FREE”; a link to the video is below.
To watch the ‘Sets you free movie’, use this link: https://youtu.be/sZYJFqqa4Lk
One of my favourite collaterals developed by the marketing department at this time was the famous “cutting the cord” slogan (which was in a Bluetooth collateral). This early collateral was developed to emphasize one of our major themes, getting rid of cables. I believe the slogan and graphic speak for itself (I never understood why we only used this once).
During this period another interesting incident occurred which relates to the story. As an engineer at Intel within the mobile group (we designed the processors and chipsets for notebook computers), I had many patents, and my illustrious leader, Stephen Nachtshem (the Intel VP of the marketing group), asked me to attend an executive meeting on patents which he couldn’t make.
I went to a large conference room a bit early and sat down. A couple of minutes before it started in walked Gordon Moore and Andy Grove and sat down at the end of the table, pretty close to me. While I had been in past meetings with executives, I was always psyched at being in a meeting with Gordon Moore (he helped Robert Noyce invent the planar transistor/integrated circuit), and here I would be at a meeting with Gordon and Andy; very cool.
The meeting covered the legal group’s process for filing patents. Evidently there were many more patents than Intel had lawyers, so they contracted out many of the patent applications to contract lawyers. I had been through this process many times, and was troubled about a patent I had been working on with a contract lawyer about 2-3 years ago which never got filed. In fact the lawyer just kind of disappeared off the face of the earth. About 2 years later I was presented with the partially finished patent application and asked if I wished to still file the patent. I indicated that yes, it was an important patent and asked what had happened? Turns out the lawyer had left the legal firm we were contracting to, and when her desk was given to another lawyer 2 years later, they had found the patent application in the desk drawer. Earlier I discovered that our competition was suing Intel on a technology my patent would have been prior art on.
So I raised my hand, and the lawyer giving the presentation stopped, recognized me, and I asked a question.
“Since you have all of these contract lawyers working on patent applications, do you have a database that tracks these patents?”
The lawyer looked a little confused and asked me to elaborate. I explained that since these patent applications are going to external contract lawyers, shouldn’t we be recording what patents were being prepared, when and whom the applications have been sent to. This would allow Intel to track the status of patents, and discover if any were lost or behind schedule. The lawyer indicated that no they did not have such a database and continued.
Then something unnatural happened. Gordon Moore, one of the nicest, kindest people I have ever met, said “what do you mean you don’t have a database”. And it went downhill from there. Gordon started yelling at the lawyer in a very loud voice and started standing up. Andy Grove quickly stood up and put his hand on Gordon’s shoulder and said, “it’s OK Gordon, I’ll take care of this.”
Gordon sat down, and Andy started yelling at the lawyer. I was sitting there thinking, how cool is this, I’m in a meeting with Andy Grove and Gordon Moore; glad I’m not that lawyer! All of the sudden Andy Grove’s spittle landed on my notebook (there was a lot of screaming occurring, and I was close) and I circled it and wrote “Andy Grove’s spittle”.
In any case, I came to work the next day and as I was walking to my office Stephen Nachtsheim walked up to me and asked.
“Jim, what exactly happened at that meeting I sent you to yesterday.” I told Stephen about the lawyer going over the patent process, and my question, and how Gordon started asking questions, and got angry, and then how Andy was asking questions, and got angry. I showed Stephen Andy Grove’s spittle on my notebook. Stephen had a very puzzled look on his face and replied. “Don’t worry about any of this, I’ll take care of it.”
In February of ’98, while the “name development” was taking place, the signing of the agreements between the different companies was to take place. We had been negotiating since December ‘97 with Ericsson, Nokia, IBM, Toshiba (and of course Intel), and I had an agreement with every company to sign the contracts except IBM.
The issue had to do with Intellectual Property agreement within the agreement. It basically said at a high level, that if you had any IP that would read on the technology, you would agree not to sue other members of the SIG and was referred to as an “Open IP” agreement. It was very difficult for Ericsson and Nokia to sign this agreement, because in the telecommunications world you licensed technology using a “reasonable and non-discriminatory” license.
While non-discriminatory meant you could not choose who to license or not license to (a good thing), the word “reasonable” was not very quantitative. What is reasonable to one company might be considered unreasonable to another company. Additionally, running a SIG under this sort of agreement leads to technologies being presented because of IP positions (hoping to get a long-term royalty stream).
The open IP was different in that you would not get a royalty stream from the technology, and the engineers can pick technology based on merit versus there company’s IP positions.
In this case IBM did not want to adopt an Open IP license for the technology, it was against their IP policies. Additionally the IP was owned by the legal group within IBM, which had its own profit and loss (P&L). So there was a rift in IBM where the legal group indicated IBM would never sign an open IP license, and the mobile group (who designed and manufactured IBM notebooks) wanted to help develop the technology. To further make things worse, my lawyer bet me that IBM would never sign that contract in a million years (Brian Epstein, same lawyer I used for the trademark search).
So, we had a meeting scheduled at the Ericsson site in Raleigh North Carolina to sign the contracts, but I really wasn’t sure what to do as IBM indicated that they wouldn’t sign the contracts, but we needed to get the contracts signed to start the technical work.
I had the brilliant (yet dumb) idea that I would get the four companies to sign the agreement, and would continue to negotiate with IBM and bring them in as promoters later on. To this end, I modified the contracts and removed IBMs name from the contract. As the official name had not been selected yet, these contracts were pinned under the name of the “Bluetooth SIG”.
Johann Weber, Stephen Nachtsheim’s assistant, and I arrived at the Raleigh site and I passed out the contracts on the tables for everyone to review and sign. Johann was an Expat from Intel Munich, and had been helping Stephen, Simon and I to get all of the companies together to help the SIG. Johann basically knew all of the executives personally and was a great guy to have helping you.
So Johann and I were standing around talking as everyone was settling in when the VP (Adalio Sanchez) and Lawyer from IBM stepped up.
“Hey Jim, I was just looking over the contracts, and they look pretty good, but I noticed that IBM was left off the contracts, there is no place to sign”.
Johann kind of glared at me. Wow, I probably should have told him earlier that I had removed the names. I explained that I had been negotiating in good faith with the IBM lawyers (the main negotiator was standing next to him) for 2-3 months, and they indicated they would never sign the contracts. As such I needed to start the technology work, and thought we would go ahead and sign the promoter agreements with the companies still willing to go forward, and would continue negotiating with IBM and bring them into the SIG as a promoter when we reached an agreement.
Adalio Sanchez thanked me for the explanation and indicated that he would like to talk to his lawyer in private. They then went into an empty conference room. I looked at Johann and he smiled at me and said “you are soo fired”. I thought “I am so fired”. Then there was some very loud screaming taking place in that conference room. Orjan (the Ericsson PM) walked up to enter the conference room (we were at an Ericsson facility), heard the screaming and said “I think I’ll come back later”.
The screaming continued for another five minutes or so. Johann and I just stood there in silence. All I could think was “I’m so fired”. Finally the screaming stopped and Adalio and his lawyer came out of the conference room. Adalio had a huge smile on his face, while the lawyer was beat red, tousled hair, and was in a bad mood. Adalio said: “Jim, I’m sorry about the confusion, can you go and add IBM’s name back to the contracts as we’ll be signing them today”, and he walked away. The lawyer had remained behind and told me something to the effect: “You think you won this round, but when you go to approve the spec IBM will never sign it” and stormed off.
Johann said “Wow”, and I went to figure out how to update and print out the contracts. So while I was waiting for the contracts to print, I called my lawyer buddy Brian and told him “Guess what, IBM just told me they are signing the contracts”. He was in total disbelief, what wonderful news. I told him I had to run and grabbed the new “Bluetooth” contracts, distributed them, and got them signed.
Anders Edlund, Stephen Nachtsheim, Johann Weber, Jim Kardach and Simon Ellis
Later that day Brian called me back and told me that he went to tell his boss Carl Silverman that Intel had just got IBM to sign an open IP agreement (something they thought impossible). But as soon as Brian mentioned my name Carl started screaming. I thought about this and told Brian about the executive IP meeting, my question, Gordon Moore’s question, Andy Grove getting angry and about Andy’s spittle landing on my notebook and then meeting Stephen the next day. Carl was probably at this meeting …
This set of agreements provided the terms and conditions that would allow the technical teams from the various companies to formally start working together to develop the short-range wireless technology. Additionally, it created the membership framework that would allow “Early Adopters” to also help in the development of the technical specifications. And as the marketing group had not agreed upon a formal name for the SIG; it was formed under its codename “Bluetooth”.
On the name creation side, Simon Ellis (the Intel marketing representative and chair of the Bluetooth marketing group) coordinated Intel brainstorming sessions with the Intel naming czars and proactively offered a $500 reward for any person/s who submitted the final winning name. Simon has always been a competitive guy, and he wished the Intel name proposal to be the official name! Being a highly gifted naming persona, I invited myself to these brainstorming sessions (I, after all, did come up with the codename and I didn’t want to miss out on any of the naming fun). I met an interesting group of people that had much experience in developing past names; there were people attending who had developed the PCMCIA, AGP, PCI and Pentium names.
The professional process of developing a name in such a session goes something like this: People knowledgeable about the technology provide an overview of the technology to those present and explain what it can do for people. A moderator creates a list of these attributes as they are mentioned, and then everyone starts shouting ideas for names to the moderator, who writes them down. After a couple of minutes the amount of names being offered slows… and eventually stops… and then the moderator groups the names into similar themes and begins the process of elimination.
sophisticated process was repeated several times and finally resulted in the name “RadioWire‘” as the Intel proposal. However, the process arrived at this name just a week prior to the scheduled name voting date. Simon, realizing that it would be difficult to gain support for “RadioWire” with only one week before the vote, begged me to push the vote out at least another week. I had to consider the big picture. Selecting a name wasn’t really high on our priority list at the time — delaying the picking of the name would only increase the expense of printing the collaterals. Additionally, I didn’t believe it would be a popular decision based on the mood of the different companies (they were pretty much set on another name). I told Simon he had one week to prepare; I wasn’t going to delay the vote.
It was decided we would announce/launch the SIG, under its official name, at a worldwide event held in London, England; San Jose, California; and Tokyo, Japan. As preparations proceeded, information started to leak out about what we were doing. My archives have revealed one such article (note that it dates prior to the May 5th, 1997 launch).
Many articles started leaking out about the technology development. Some were more accurate than others on the details (for example, the article above was not entirely accurate. Microsoft and Puma didn’t get involved until later). I did call Puma after the article was published and asked them about this new industry consortium they were forming called “Blue Tooth”; they were one of the very first Early Adopter companies to join the SIG), however, all of the articles noted the fact that a development code-named “Bluetooth” was occurring, that its name was derived from a 10th century Danish King, and that it represented a development of short range wireless technology. In fact, this article’s inclusion of a line devoted to explaining the historical relevance of the name “Bluetooth” became typical of the articles that followed.
As I mentioned previously, the selection of the official name was a key milestone for the worldwide launch and would kick off the printing of the launch collaterals. To meet these goals the “naming meeting” took place roughly two months before the actual launch (scheduled for May 5th, 1998). This vote took place at our weekly management meeting (called the “PM (Program Management) meeting”), and would require the winning name to achieve 3 out of 5 votes for acceptance.
On the scheduled day of the vote, we had both Program Management and Marketing attendance from all five-promoter companies. The format of the meeting was for the marketing people to present their proposals, followed by the vote (by the PM members). Simon, who was still a bit upset, as he hadn’t much time to pre-sell his proposal, made the first pitch; I figured this extra 15 seconds or so would give him the edge he needed to be successful (would you believe he never thanked me for this?).
Simon gave Intel’s proposal “RadioWire” and explained why this was a great name: “Because it is not PAN. PAN is an awful name. You will regret picking the name PAN.” This was followed by each of the other four companies proposing PAN. Needless to say, it was a four to one decision and the SIG had picked its first official name. The meeting adjourned and the marketing team went forward creating all of the collaterals for the launch. Simon indicated that it was my fault PAN was picked and he wasn’t going to talk to me again.
Roughly three weeks later, Ericsson called a mysterious emergency meeting, held over the phone, as the participants were located all over the world. Orjan Johansson, the Ericsson PM representative, indicated that Ericsson had a serious legal issue with the name “PAN” and that Jan Ahrenbring would elaborate. Jan then started to explain that the name “PAN” was not trademarkable and we would have to use another name. It turns out that neither Ericsson nor any of the other companies had done a trademark search for their proposal until after the voting. They were shocked to discover that their initial trademark search had turned up about 1,700 hits, making it an extremely high risk name to trademark.
Given that Orjan had indicated that Ericsson’s legal group had found the issues, I thought Jan was an Ericsson lawyer. I muted our phone and asked my group, “Is this guy the Ericsson lawyer?” Simon, who hadn’t really spoken to me in weeks, quickly announced, “Must be.” I then un-muted the phone and went into my best “kill the messenger” dialogue.
Now, I must explain that in forming and running a SIG it is inevitable that you will end up dealing with lots of lawyers. This can be a very frustrating process and I see now that I must have been releasing a bit of frustration as yet another lawyer-at-the-last-minute-before-a- major-event was creating another problem. Jan was very apologetic and indicated that they would do whatever they could to resolve the issue.
I next summarized our current situation:
- We can’t move forward with the PAN name — the risk is too high
- We need a name for the launch (roughly 3-4 weeks away) and we needed it NOW in order to start reprinting all of the collaterals.
- We need a name that is low risk, or something that has already passed a trademark search
As it turned out, the only other name that someone had done a trademark search on was Bluetooth (thank you Brian) and everyone quickly came to the understanding that we would be launching the SIG with the name “Bluetooth”. Marketing quickly added the postfix that they would be picking and announcing an official name at a later date and that this should be one of the key messages in the launch.
After the meeting, Simon surprised me by once again talking to me.
“Jim, don’t you think you were a bit rough on Jan?”
“He’s a lawyer, he’s used to it.”
“That’s funny, I thought Jan was the Ericsson VP of Marketing and I’m not sure he’s used to people yelling at him…”
Ah, now I knew why Simon was talking with me again. Simon had achieved a double victory. First, his point had been made about PAN being a really bad name (it didn’t seem to matter that the reasons were totally different). Second, Simon got to watch me make an ass of myself by abusing an Ericsson Marketing VP. I spent the next couple of weeks nervously awaiting the repercussions of my actions.
In the meantime, LEGO had travelled to the United States to have a technology discussion with Intel. At this meeting it was disclosed that Intel was working on a number of wireless technologies, one of which was code-named “Bluetooth”. The LEGO representatives were quite surprised and indicated that it was their patriotic duty to join and support any development named “Bluetooth”! LEGO is based in Denmark; their headquarters is located about 10 Km from the original Harald Bluetooth runic stone in Jelling.
As Simon was once again speaking to me, I did point out that I had submitted the name Bluetooth, the SIG name we would be publicly launching with, and I was entitled to the $500 prize money he had offered. Simon indicated that we were launching with the codename, not the official name, and that his prize was for the official name (and not to hold my breath).
One of the bonuses from this quick name change was the abundance of “PAN” Polo shirts and other “PAN” memorabilia. I have saved one such memento, an Ericsson Polo shirt, which showed the PAN logo. If only those 1,600 websites hadn’t used the word PAN …
To support the launch, Marketing wished to provide a memento to the press so that they would remember the event. It was suggested that we should give out a miniature Harald Bluetooth runic stone that we were currently depicting in our foils (in the last article we showed the famous runic stone enhanced such that Harald was holding a notebook in one hand and a cell phone in the other hand). It was agreed and Anders Edlund (Ericsson Bluetooth Marketing) was given the task of creating these runic stone mementos. I envisioned plastic covered foam rocks with a picture of Harald printed on the front, however, Anders surprised everyone by actually having Harald’s image carved into real granite stones about 6 inches tall! It is a rare honor to own one of these original runic stones.
A Runic stone momento, next to the first Bluetooth guitar pick
In early May, the worldwide launch took place. Simon Ellis and myself attended the London launch (though I’ve included a collage of pictures from the all of the launches). The PR agency we hired to arrange the event was called Edelman and we met with them the day before the event. At these meetings, we discovered that the Edelman people were not very happy with the launch, which I originally attributed to the “PAN name change incident”. However, the Edelman people were very clear about their unhappiness. First, they thought that the name Bluetooth was embarrassing and they recommended that we not use it at all. They felt the press would not take us seriously, and that it invoked images of poor dental hygiene versus images of cool devices interacting in ways that were previously not possible. Second, they hated the Bluetooth rock memento; it made it difficult to avoid using the name Bluetooth and they felt there would be lots of headlines about “Bluetooth will drop like a rock” with pictures of the infamous runic stone. Simon explained that much of the technical press had already heard of the codename and not to worry too much about the name (he might also have mentioned that Edelman had not been paid yet and we were writing the cheque).
We later discovered that the PR team in the US flat-out refused to give out the runic stones, although Simon and I later reacquired the stones and gave them out as mementos to people joining the Bluetooth team, or as incentives to companies joining the Bluetooth SIG. Simon and I stopped the “London rock rebellion” just as it was starting, but the Japanese launch people thought it an outstanding memento. At the London launch Simon did take time to personally introduce me to the afore-mentioned Jan Ahrenbring, Ericsson VP of Marketing and part-time lawyer.
As it turns out the launch was well received and generated a great amount of headlines, embedding the name of Bluetooth within the minds of people everywhere. Edelman had done a fine job, and we later discovered that they had won an award based on the amount of publicity this launch had generated.
To watch the Bluetooth launch video, use this link: https://youtu.be/ivb-Ln6Sm3s
After the launch of the SIG with its new Bluetooth codename, I got an email from my buddy Sven Mattisson. He told me that the Ericsson CEO had called him and asked how the technology got the name Bluetooth and he didn’t know what to tell him. I reminded Sven about the night in Toronto where he told me the story of the book “the Longboats” and that the name of the kind in that book was Harald Bluetooth, and that when I got home I had seen a picture of Bluetooth’s runic stone in this book “The Vikings” I bought, and I just thought it would make a great code name. I also reminded him that even though IBM proposed the name PAN, they had never done a trademark search on the proposal (and everyone had assumed they had done the trademark search).
“I can’t tell the CEO of Ericsson that we came up with the name while swizzling beers in Toronto”
He then put together a story that he felt comfortable with (I don’t have the original mail anymore, so all from memory):
“Jim and I used to discuss history and I related the story of ‘The Longboats’ where Harald Bluetooth was king. Jim proposed this as a codename because Bluetooth united Denmark, Sweden and Norway just has we hoped our technology would unite cellphones and notebooks”
I told Sven that I liked the beer swizzling version better, but that this sounded good also. He then sent an email to the CEO of Ericsson (copied me, but I lost the email).
I was recently at the computer history museum in Mountain View California, and they had an exhibit on Nils Rydbeck; who I met several times in the development of Bluetooth, and is one of the legends in cellphones (he basically invented and developed the very first practical cellphone). They had interviewed Nils Rydbeck about the cellphone and MC-LINK/Bluetooth development, and towards the end he talks about how it got its name (at 3:39), saying that Ericsson had given Intel a very good book “the Longboats” where the King in the story was Harald Bluetooth.
I thought, that’s strange, Sven gave me that book months after the launch (I still have it). Then I remembered the email exchange with Sven. I just thought “damn, I could have had Nils Rydbeck talking about me and Sven swizzling beers in Toronto! How cool would that be?”.
Nonetheless, the marketing group had an unfinished task and continued to march on. Their next attempt would prove to be more complete. Marketing performed simultaneous trademark searches while conducting a worldwide focal group study of different names targeted for a short-range wireless technology.
As “Bluetooth” had already received a lot of attention, just for grins they would also include this name in the study. I think that, at this time, both Simon and Anders started to believe it would be nearly impossible to change the name given the amount of publicity generated around Bluetooth.
The results of the worldwide focal group study were quite amusing and I wish I still had a copy of it (what I relate to you is from memory). As I remember, the focal group study took place in London, San Francisco, Tokyo and Mexico City (there are probably a couple of other cities I left out). I can’t remember all of the names tested, but I believe one of the favorites was CoMeGo (a conglomerate of Come, Go, and Me).
One of the questions asked was, “When you hear this name, what do you associate it with?” The top response for Bluetooth was “dental hygiene problems” (or something similar). When asked what type of industry you would associate with the name, the top response for Bluetooth was the “Dental Industry”. When asked to rate the different names for pure popularity, Bluetooth turned up dead last in every city except Mexico City, where it was rated as number one (no one knows why).
While this survey was being conducted, the Bluetooth name continued to grow in popularity. Warren Allen, the Toshiba PM representative, related that at the conclusion of a PC Week interview, the interviewers remarked: “Whatever you do, don’t change the name, it’s the best part.”
In fact, the marketing group started having serious doubts about the wisdom of changing the name at this point. Companies typically spend hundreds of millions of dollars to create the name recognition that had just magically appeared around “Bluetooth”. While consumers may not know what Bluetooth was, you could talk to almost any technical company and they not only knew that Bluetooth represented a short-range wireless technology, but that there existed a 10th century Danish king of the same name.
In my own personal experience I have created many technical standards, however, nothing that my family could understand or associate with. Bluetooth was different, not only was it something my mother or father could understand (replacing a cable), but it was a technology that they read about in the local newspaper or heard about on television. Many times I received emails or letters with a clipping mentioning Bluetooth! It was a good feeling to work on something (for once) that even my parents and relatives could recognize and associate with.
As the popularity of the SIG grew, membership rocketed skyward, and the number of press articles continued to grow, all under the name Bluetooth. It became obvious that he marketing group had to resolve the official name. The focus group study showed that CoMeGo tested best in all the markets, but the reality of the situation had set in; the industry knew what Bluetooth was, they didn’t know what CoMeGo was. Changing the name would be an extremely risky thing to do at this point.
So, the marketing group presented the following recommendation to the PM group:
“The focal group study showed that CoMeGo tested extremely well in the different geographies that we have tested. However, it is felt that creating a strong brand could pose a threat to our existing parent company brands (Intel, IBM, Toshiba, Ericsson and Nokia). On the other hand, the focus group studies show that Bluetooth would not be a threat at all to our existing brands, and further, Bluetooth already has established a strong association with short-range wireless technology within our targeted industries. We therefore recommend that the SIG should retain ‘Bluetooth’ as the official name of the technology and SIG.”
So at last, Bluetooth became the official name. I immediately went to Simon and asked for my $500 prize money. His first response was something to the effect of “drop dead”, but about three months later I received a notice of an award where I received $200 for submitting the winning technology name. I immediately called Simon and reminded him that the prize was $500! He stated that I was lucky to get $200 (I’m still waiting).
Occasionally, I do Internet searches on Bluetooth to measure its awareness. In the beginning, I would receive about a dozen hits, all of which referred to the Danish King (mostly in family tree websites). At about the time Bluetooth became the official name, these same searches resulted in several hundred hits, most about the technology and several on the historical King. In 2002 I did a search of “Bluetooth” which resulted in over 618,000 hits (the first hit taking me directly to the Bluetooth home page). Today I did a search of “Bluetooth” and had 1,360,000,000 hits; The first reference I saw dedicated to the historical Harald Bluetooth (not related to his electronic counterpart) occurred on page 13 of the search. Indeed the name has become extremely popular.
So now you know the major events surrounding the naming of the technology. The process was neither smooth nor predictable and I believe no one involved would have dared to predict that the technology would ultimately be called “Bluetooth”. Focal group studies demonstrated that the name brought absolutely no recognition around what we were trying to accomplish. Given the events that surrounded the naming, I’m not sure the phenomenon could ever be repeated.
Why was the name successful? Perhaps it was the quaint historical reference. Perhaps it was the odd name that brought up an image of dental decay, and then the sudden “ah-ha” that it referred to a historical figure that made the name difficult to forget. Perhaps the easy-to- understand usage model (replaces a cable) further helped people to associate this odd name with the technology. I’m not really sure myself, however, I think it would be fun to read a Harvard case study of what makes a popular name, using Bluetooth as one of the examples.
One last story about the runic stone. In late ’98, I was in Lund, Sweden on some SIG business and visited Per Svensson. Per was one of the initial Ericsson managers I worked with when we first started creating the SIG framework. Per and I are both very interested in history and Per was extremely pleased that I was interested in Scandinavian history. Per had just visited Jelling, where the original Bluetooth Runic stone rests, and had picked up an English brochure for me. I was very pleased because the brochure had some very nice pictures of the runic stone and had a nice history of Gorm the Old and Harald.
When I got back to Santa Clara it was my intention to make a new bitmap of the stone with this much better quality picture. So I scanned the picture and printed it out on a high-resolution laser printer. When I walked into my office, the phone rang and I set the print on my desk and picked up the phone. Jeff Schiffer (who did much of the SIG’s regulatory work dealing with security, spectrum and module compliance) walked into my office and picked up the picture and started staring at it. All of the sudden I heard Jeff remark, “hey, aren’t those holes in the palms of his hands?” This immediately caught my attention. I grabbed the photo (and must have dropped the phone on the ground) and started examining the picture more closely. Indeed, there were dark spots on the palms of his hands.
After a bit of further investigation, I found new references that described this as an image of Christ (we always wondered about the circles surrounding his head, this now solved that mystery). Later, a friend from Compaq computer related to Simon and I that in the Copenhagen Museum they have a replica of the Harald Bluetooth stone and do refer to the image as Christ.
Needless to say, this was very worrisome. I lived in a country where, in the 60’s, they burned Beatles records when John Lennon indicated the Beatles were more popular than Christ, and here I had inadvertently used Christ as a spokesperson for the Bluetooth technology! I wasn’t sure what to do, so I discussed the situation with Simon and we decided to discreetly stop using the image of the rock. I will also state that I have been to Jelling and have seen the original stone; I couldn’t see any dark spots on the palms of his hands!
Unfortunately, we were also getting complaints from the Danish who considered the Harald Bluetooth runic stone to be the country’s “Baptism” stone, as it was erected at the time of the founding of the monarchy (Gorm the Old, Harald’s Father was second King of Denmark). Drawing a laptop and a phone on the image was akin to putting graffiti on the Statue of Liberty.
Since selecting Bluetooth as the official SIG name, the SIG had been trying to trademark the name Bluetooth (I’ll probably get a formal notice from the SIG for my total disregard for the trademark rules in writing this story, however, I’m writing about events that took place prior to the trademark). I am sorry to report that the only rejection we got was from the United States Trademark Office. The Trademark Office indicates that the word “Bluetooth” is synonymous with short-range wireless technology and therefore is not trademarkable! The SIG did explain that the Bluetooth SIG had created that association and was eventually granted the Bluetooth trademark.
Jim Kardach (centre) with Simon Ellis (left) and Incisor.TV’s Vince Holton (right) in Capitola, California, March 2020
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