A ‘skunkworks’ project has come to mean one conducted by ‘a small and loosely structured group of people who research and develop a project primarily for the sake of radical innovation’ (thank you, Wikipedia), but it originated with a specific development programme at Lockheed Martin (LM), which trade-marked the word.
David Galbraith, an internet developer, registered the domain name designskunkworks.com for his own project, unaware (he says) of LM’s trade-mark. Galbraith received an e-mail from in-house counsel at LM, asking him to assign the domain name to the company. Galbraith’s reply pointed out that he had registered the name in good faith on the strength of the common usage of the key term, saying that he was only too happy not to be associated with a ‘manufacturer of cluster bombs and weapons of mass destruction’. He asked for instructions on how to assign the domain name, attaching a cute picture of a kitten on the assumption the in-house lawyer needed to take his or her ‘mind off things’. The LM lawyer sent instructions for the assignment, making no mention of the kitty. Galbraith took (mock) offence at this omission, but said that he’d be willing to eat the $9.99 he had spent on registration and assign the name to LM in exchange for a picture of a puppy. While LM did offer to reimburse Galbraith for the cost of registration (upon providing satisfactory proof), no puppy picture (or, consequently, assignment of the domain name) has been forthcoming. Actual e-mail exchange (kitten picture included) at the link.
[Link available here].