The US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has done an about face on Dell's effort to claim a trademark on "cloud computing," and is reconsidering its earlier action.

Dell had received near final approval for this trademark, but the USPTO cancelled its "Notice of Allowance" earlier this week, according to trademark records. The application has been "returned to examination."

Dell spokesman David Frink said the company isn't commenting on the USPTO's action, other than to acknowledge that the issue is going back to the examiner for additional review. He didn't want to speculate on what that might mean.

Joe Englander, an intellectual property attorney at Shutts & Bowen, said the USPTO's decision may have been prompted by the public attention the trademark was getting.

Englander suspects a primary examiner, a person in a senior position, "looked at it and probably agreed with some of the arguments that were made public."

The USPTO move is a setback for Dell, said Englander. "It means that right when you thought you were out of the woods, you are not."

Englander was among those attorneys who argued that cloud computing is a generic term. Even if the USPTO ultimately grants approval, the company may still face challenges.

Dell, however, does already own cloudcomputing.com