Monday, July 25, 2011

Too Many Commodores!

It sounds like some ol' Navy phrase - "Too many Commodores, not enough ships." No, I'm referring to the computer brand made famous by the Commodore 64 and Amiga in the 80's and early 90's.

I wrote a previous post titled "Too Many Amigas!" about the brand dilution that is occurring by having too many companies producing completely different products under the Amiga name. Commodore itself has a similar problem because it too became fragmented after the company went bankrupt.

The one you've probably heard about is Commodore USA, LLC. It's a Florida startup that is mostly using off-the-shelf components and systems and rebranding them. The only "original" thing they've got so far is a computer case that looks a lot like the original Commodore 64 filled with PC gear at a steep markup. They can do this because they have licensed the brand from Commodore International Licensing, BV which is in turn owned by a company named Asiarim (Asia Rim - get it?) who have actually changed their name to "Commodore Holdings Corporation" as of March 2011. But Commodore USA, LLC apparently does not have an exclusive license to the name. Consider what it says at the bottom of their website:

Commodore® trademark used under exclusive worldwide license by Commodore USA, LLC for its line of AIO (All-In-One) keyboard computers, and is the trademark of Commodore Licensing, BV, registered in the United States and other countries.

Notice the exclusivity is conditional "for it's line of AIO (All-In-One) keyboard computers." Now why would that be in there? Oh, maybe because Commodore Consumer Electronics in the Netherlands and Commodore Consumer Electronics USA are respectively the European and American sales offices for Asiarim/Commodore Holdings Corporation (though the web addresses for the individual sales office sites seem to have disappeared).

And what sort of things do they sell? Apparently several Commodore branded mobile devices, one of which I blogged about back in April of 2009. In addition to what I knew about they also have listed "Ultra Mobile" and "Mobile Internet" devices (the latter are kind of like smartphones without the phone part). As for where you could actually BUY these things? Probably nowhere. Those devices have apparently been listed for years and no products have actually ever shipped.

And last but not least (well maybe least, I don't know how you'd measure these things) is Commodore Gaming located in the Netherlands (a subsidiary of the The Content Factory, BV). They offer the official Commodore 64 game emulator app for the iPhone and Wii. They originally sold customized gaming PCs, but are no longer in the hardware business as I'm sure the app business is a lot more profitable. People seem a little confused as to what the deal is with this company.

I've read that they were involved in a joint venture with Commodore International Corporation in 2005-2006 (which predates Asiarim/Commodore Holdings Corporation and their subsidiary Commodore International Licensing, BV) which has led some to believe Commodore Gaming has joint rights to the brand name. Even Commodore USA, LLC thought so and initially approached them about licensing the name for hardware in the North American market. However Commodore Gaming informed them that they'd need to talk to Asiarim's subsidiary Commodore International Licensing, BV for that. Why? Well, according to the terms of the $22.7 million joint venture with Commodore International Corporation it was for a period of five years with an option to extend it another five years and it was CIC that would get a 49% stake in Commodore Gaming, not the other way around. However, during the term of this venture CIC ended up getting sold to Asiarim and one would assume the contract was simply transferred, meaning Commodore Gaming is, itself, nothing more than a licensee with only a few more years on the contract before they have to dissolve or negotiate a new license.

What does this all boil down to? Well, Asiarim/Commodore Holdings Corporation is the closest thing to a reunited Commodore International since the bankruptcy, but they've never shipped a product. Commodore USA, LLC is shipping hardware and is the first company to bring the Commodore and Amiga brand names back under one roof, but is only a licensee of both and doesn't actually own the intellectual property rights to either.

Of course this all could have probably been avoided if Irving Gould hadn't ousted Thomas Rattigan back in 1987. Rattigan turned the company around, not only steering it away from presumed inevitable bankruptcy but into the black $46 million in only a couple years at the helm. But suddenly Rattigan was replaced by Chairman Irving Gould. Rattigan later claimed he was ousted due to personality conflicts and Gould being upset that Rattigan got all the credit for saving the company. Gould, a venture-capitalist who'd been involved with the company for 20 odd years, believed that North American branch should be little more than a sales and marketing extension of the stronger European core of the company, rather than a semi-independent entity. His drastic downsizing and plant closings over his seven year reign ran the company into the ground, bankruptcy, and liquidation.

Ok, you may be wondering why I even give a damn. It was like a lifetime ago, right? Well my first computer was a Commodore 64 and if I hadn't been exposed to coding back then I might have been too intimidated to tackle HTML back in the mid-90's which led to a career in the Internet industry. A Commodore 64C saw me through many a late-night writing college papers while my classmates were jockeying for time in the school computer lab. I lusted after an "Video Toaster" Amiga for video production but could never afford one. I've got the same nostalgic soft spot in my heart for the brand that a lot of people do, and but for the bad decisions of Mr. Gould I might be typing this from my shiny new iAmiga running AmigaOS 6.

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