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Sunday, March 9, 2008

How Bluetooth got its name

In 1996 a number of companies were looking to standardize the industry around a short-range radio link for doing a number of things which seem obvious today (not so obvious in 1996).

Within Intel, I had started a program called Business-RF; Ericsson had a program called MC-Link; Nokia had a program called Low Power RF. At the time we were in discussions to figure out the best way to drive a single wireless standard in the industry in order to prevent fragmentation of technologies in this area (remember that in 1996 nothing existed).

Figure 1: Late 20th century marketing slide showing the value of wireless personal area networks .

As we would approach different companies to talk about what short range wireless technologies could do and how having a single short-range standard would be so much better than having three or more competing and fragmenting standards, it became apparent the need to have a single name; as Intel would talk to people about "Biz-RF," Ericsson about "MC-Link" and Nokia about "Low Power-RF," which also created confusion.

In December of 1996 we figured we had the right mixture of companies to be successful in driving the technology through a Special Interest Group (SIG) and met in Lund, Sweden at the Ericsson plant to get final agreement on forming the SIG.

At this time, Intel proposed that the SIG be called by the "codename" Bluetooth until the SIG's marketing group would come up with a formal technology name. When asked about the name Bluetooth, I explained that Bluetooth was borrowed from the 10th century, second King of Denmark, King Harald Bluetooth; who was famous for uniting Scandinavia just as we intended to unite the PC and cellular industries with a short-range wireless link.

Where did I hear about the name Bluetooth? This originated on an earlier business trip to Toronto, Canada where Ericsson's Sven Mathesson and I were presenting our technology proposal to an existing SIG; Sven pitching as MC-Link, and me pitching as Biz-RF.

After having our proposal firmly rejected, we went on a pub crawl through wintrily, blustery Toronto. Being a big history fan, I would trade stories of history with Sven.

Now Sven knew lots about radios, but not too much about history, but he had read this book (which at a later date he gave me a copy) called the Longships by Frans G. Bengtsson and would relate the history through this story.

In this book a couple of Danish warriors travel the world looking for adventure, and the king during this time was Harald Bluetooth.

When I got home from this business trip, a history book I had ordered called the The Vikings by Gwyn Jones" had arrived. Thumbing through the book, I found this (see Figure 2) picture of a giant rock, or runic stone, which depicted the chivalry of Harald Bluetooth, the guy which Sven just told me about!

Reading further, the book indicated that 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."


Figure 2: Late 20th century marketing slide showing how (among other things) laptops and cell phones preceded the discovery of the Silicon Valley.

Harald had united Denmark and Christianized the Danes! It occurred to me that this would make a good codename for the program. At this time I also created a PowerPoint foil with a version of the Runic stone where Harald held a cellphone in one hand and a notebook in the other and with a translation of the runes:

  • Harald united Denmark and Norway
  • Harald thinks that mobile PC's and cellular phones should seamlessly communicate

In any case, the marketing group was formed under the leadership of Simon Ellis (Intel) and Anders Edlund (now with Bluetooth SIG) and they started working on official "names." The suggestion I just can't forget was "Flirt" with the catch phrase "getting close, but not touching." The naming process would continue for a long time.

In February timeframe the contracts to form the SIG were finalized, but we still didn't have agreement on a name; so the codename "Bluetooth" was inserted into the contracts and the Bluetooth SIG was formed. The marketing group was still debating away on the real name.

The signing of the SIG contracts allowed the technical working groups to start working on the specifications. At the same time we needed to announce the formation of the SIG which was picked to occur in the month of May.

At this point we needed to have an official name and we had picked a board meeting the month before the launch to agree upon the name such that we could start printing collateral.

The different companies in the SIG were each developing their own names for the technology, however at this time the two top contenders were RadioWire (the Intel proposal) and PAN (for Personal Area Networking, the IBM proposal).

In April we held our board meeting and voted for the official name which went to PAN in a 4-1 vote. At this point everybody started using the name PAN and we were driving towards the launch event which would occur in about four weeks.

About a week later, an emergency meeting was called. The other member companies had performed a trademark search on the word PAN and surmised that this would be a poor candidate for a trademark: an internet search produced tens of thousands of hits.

It turned out that no trademark search was done on the backup name (Radio Wire) and the only name we could go to launch with on short notice was Bluetooth!

It was decided then that we would go ahead and launch the SIG with the codename "Bluetooth", but would then change the name when the marketing group came-up with the official name.

Needless to say, the codename turned out to be a pretty good, took hold of in the press and after awhile became synonymous with short range radios, so synonymous that when the SIG applied for a US trademark it was originally rejected because Bluetooth is synonymous with "short range radios," but that's another story

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