Psion explains its trademark position, probably won’t sue me

Psion, the company that holds the trademark for the word “netbook” is attempting to better explain why it sent cease & desist letters to some bloggers and web sites recently. Apparently most of the entities on the receiving end were advertisers and computer makers using the term to describe their products, not journalists and bloggers. But at least one blog did get a letter which was apparently designed to prompt the publisher to stop running ads using the word more than to eliminate the editorial use of the word.

Mobile tech blog jkOnTheRun was the first site to break the news about the Psion cease & desist notes, and they’ve also published the recent letter explaining the company’s actions. While it’s certainly true that Psion holds the trademark for the term netbook and indeed used to manufacture and distribute a device that looks eerily similar to today’s netbooks, it still seems wierd that the company is coming out of the woodwork to protect its trademark now, about a year after Intel decided to start using the word to promote a new class of cheap ultraportable computerss, many of which run Intel processors. 

What seems stranger is that the company is going after advertisers and web publishers rather than Intel. 

But the main reason I’m less than satisfied with Psion’s letter to clarify their position is that it doesn’t reallky make things much more clear. The letter includes a screenshot of an ad using the word “netbook,” and suggests that if the blog that ran that ad removed it, the publisher would be in compliance with the cease & desist request.

The problem is that the ad came from Amazon. And while there’s a slight chance that the blogger hand-picked the items in the ad, it’s much more likely that the items and descriptions were automatically generated as part of the Amazon ad unit. The only real solution would be to remove the Amazon ad unit altogether, which would mean eliminating non-infringing product ads as well as those that violate the trademark. Psion should really be talking to Amazon and its third party sellers, not bloggers.

  • http://notebooks.com/ Xavier

    Brad- look on the bright side: there's a slim chance that everyone will have to start calling 'em Lilputers.

  • Chris

    Here is rule #1 about trademarks: If companies don't immediately sue others over violations, they will LOSE the trademark and cannot sue for future violations.

    So in other words, if Psion didn't sue other companies/bloggers over “Netbook” (especially Intel), they have already lost the trademark to Netbook. This is how it works in the United States, and may not necessarily be true in other countries in the world. The cease and desist orders are merely scare tactics which hold little meaning.

    (by the way, I work for the government, and deal with lawyers a lot, though I am not a lawyer myself)

  • Mikez

    Chris's comment is on-point (at least for the U.S.) -
    If the trademark holder does not “diligently defend” their trademark,
    it becomes impossible to defend and can lead to cancellation.

    I am not a lawyer either – but picked up some first hand knowledge on
    this subject while dealing with Hormel Foods (SPAM(r) luncheon meat)
    and my own SpamViz product/web-sites. ;) (Hormel out spent me.)

    Why now?
    If you check over the documents in that link to TDR in the earlier blog,
    you will find a recent change in legal representation. Pison's new legal
    firm may be 'more diligent' than the previous one.

  • Mikez

    Just read the re-printed response letter linked too by Brad -
    That is the same general position that Hormel Foods takes over: “SPAM” -
    “no for-profit use”.

    As to that qualifying as a “diligent defense” (only defending against
    “for-profit” use) in U.S. Trademark law is a matter for the court system.
    If you dig through the public records at the PTO you will find there are
    a large number of “Hormel Foods Vs. …” on that subject.
    Also that this point has been going on for many years without a decision.

    With Pison's representatives taking the same position over 'Netbook” as
    that of Hormel Foods position over 'SPAM' does not mean they are correct;
    but it does assure the legal firm of decades more income. ;)

  • Mikez

    For those who can't find it, here is a repeat of the TDR link:
    http://tmportal.uspto.gov/external/portal/tow?S

  • Mikez

    A quick on-line search of the USPTO database shows for:
    Liliputer, Liliputers, Lilliputer, Lilliputers
    None of them are registered (to show at the quick-search level anyway).

    Here is your link Brad:
    http://www.uspto.gov/teas/index.html
    Get out your checkbook (about $300) and file. ;)

  • Jeremy

    I also wonder why Psion is choosing to spend money to protect the word “netbook”. How will they realize a profit from the money they spend during this effort?

    My best guess is as follows: if Psion can succesfully curtail public use of the name, they will have control over a term that has serious weight in the marketplace. Then they could sell the rights to the word netbook, perhaps to dell or some other major player, who would then have exclusive use of the name. The key, though, is first getting control of the name, which is what they're trying to do now.

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  • http://home.comcast.net/~tomleem/ TomLeeM/BigWarpGuy

    It would be like Xerox suing any body using their name as generic way of describing copying things or Frigiddair suing any one using Refergerator as a generic term for ice boxes.. It is a too commonly used word to keep it from being used in generic way.

  • Anonymous

    “Save the Netbooks” campaign launched to fight impending trademark threat

    The “Save the Netbooks” campaign is fighting the impending trademark threat from Psion Teklogix, who have given until the end of March 2009 to cease using the term citing trademarks relating to a line of products discontinued over 5 years ago.

    For more information visit http://www.savethenetbooks.com/.

    PS does it really make much difference that they won’t sue you if they’re going to go after the manufacturers and retailers anyway? Well, read their statement on the site under ‘Learn’ and you’ll see you should be fine (actually with any luck we all should be fine!)

  • savethenetbooks

    “Save the Netbooks” campaign launched to fight impending trademark threat

    The “Save the Netbooks” campaign is fighting the impending trademark threat from Psion Teklogix, who have given until the end of March 2009 to cease using the term citing trademarks relating to a line of products discontinued over 5 years ago.

    For more information visit http://www.savethenetbooks.com/.

    PS does it really make much difference that they won't sue you if they're going to go after the manufacturers and retailers anyway? Well, read their statement on the site under 'Learn' and you'll see you should be fine (actually with any luck we all should be fine!)

  • http://woodworking-books.org Woodworking project plans

    The cease and desist orders are merely scare tactics which hold little meaning.