Psion demands a jury trial in netbook trademark case

psion-netbook-sales

It looks like we’re in for what could be a long and protracted legal battle over the right to use the word “netbook” for commerce purposes. Because it doesn’t look like either Intel or Psion are going to back down. In 2008, Intel, along with an enormous group of computer makers, retailers, journalists, bloggers, and consumers starting using the word to describe low cost ultraportable computers like the Asus Eee PC. But Psion, which was known once upon a time for making PDAs and handheld computers, has owned the trademark for years, even though the company stopped producing laptops under the Netbook name in 2003.

Psion has been sending letters to companies using the term asking them to stop. And last week, Dell and Intel each responded by taking legal action and asking the US to cancel Psion’s trademark. Psion responded publicly by stating that it does too still sell Netbooks, even if it doesn’t produce them anymore. And now it appears the company has also responded to Intel’s complaint by asking for a jury trial. 

In a nutshell, Psion refutes most of Intel’s claims other than the obvious ones (like the names of the companies and the fact that there appears to be a disagreement here). But Psion then goes on to cite some sales figures demonstrating that the company does in fact still sell netbooks in the US, and that the company’s trademark is being hurt by the dillution of the term — even if (or because) Psion only sold $60,900 worth of Netbook Pro products in the US last year, and $13,640 this year. 

I’m not a lawyer, but it looks to me like Psion would have a pretty good case here. Except the company was clearly absent for most of a year while the world started to adopt netbook as a generic term. Psion claims that the term hasn’t yet become generic, but I think that ship has kind of sailed already. 

Basically Psion is asking the court to bar Intel and others from using the term netbook, and asking for the netbook.com domain name which is currently registered to Intel to be transfered to Psion. Oh, and money. The company want to be compensated for the damages caused by Intel’s infringement — and that profits Intel made off of its infringement be transfered to Psion. So yeah, just in case you had any doubt what this whole thing was about. It’s about money.

  • savethenetbooks

    That's treble damages to you ;)

    Makes you wonder if they do in fact intend to bring out a new device or if indeed they're just “in it to win it” (kinda like the lottery).

    StN

  • DougC3

    To me, it's always seemed unlikely that you could just take away someone's trademark just because they weren't very big, didn't use it very much, or weren't very popular. That sort of goes against the purpose of trademarks.

    Heard any interesting news about webbooks lately? ;)

  • PrincessNybor

    The more I hear the term “netbook” the more I think it was outdated even by the time it was popular. The first round of “netbooks” had tiny screens and very limited storage capacity, so the fact that they were marketed as net-centric devices kind of made sense. That hasn't been the case for many months now, and for the first time, I am starting to think a little like AMD.

    The Atom CPU and small SSD's are starting to be used in laptops with larger screens, and faster processors and graphics are going into devices with smaller screens. Considering how fast this new ultraportable-tiny-laptop-whatever-you-want-to-call-it segment moves, the term “netbook” will be outdated by the time Psion sees this go to court.

  • savethenetbooks

    Certainly have: http://blog.savethenetbooks.com/2009/02/save-we

    “That won't stop (presumably husband and wife pair) Robert & Colleen Kell of 3518 Lakeland Drive, Austin, TX from having a crack at it late November 2008 though. In application #77616571 they have claimed a section 1b intent to use the mark in relation to IC009 Computer hardware – that is, these two are apparently going to bring out their very own WebBook computer. That seems a little curious though given the email address they've used ([email protected]) is related to Rob Kell's Marketing & Advertising business, Rob Kell Creative. What business do they have making laptop computers?”

    Oh, and you'll want a companion term for desktops too (ala nettop)… webtop's already taken.

    StN

  • savethenetbooks

    Be sure to tell the 35 million anticipated new owners of netbooks this year about this revelation. A 'netbook' is a single purpose 'Internet Notebook'. Yes you can browse the Internet on a laptop and yes you can run software applications on most netbooks, but there are many optimisations beyond the number of pixels that differentiate the two classes of devices.

    Looking further into the future on the other hand, it's likely the netbook will kill off the notebook for many users who will increasingly rely on cloud computing services for things that would traditionally have been done locally (compute and storage for example).

    StN

  • Lee

    To be honest, I never liked the term netbook to begin with. If you ask me Psion can keep the term and all that comes with it. But yeah, they want the dollars. They are looking for a few million to fatten up their cauffers that are probably bone dry after years of no sales.

  • savethenetbooks

    The interesting thing is that it appears there was only $133,078 in netBook sales between 1999 and the 2003 discontinuation. At $1,299 a pop that's around a hundred devices.

    Total.

    Over five years.

    Twenty a year.

    Only half a dozen in the first two years of sales (2000, 2001).

    It's almost like those figures are too low to be realistic, and yet surely Psion are giving optimistic rather than pessimistic numbers?

  • PrincessNybor

    Wow. The intent of my post was NOT to piss you off, but more to agree with you. I agree that Psion is clearly in this for the money, and waited FAR too long to make a claim. I picture their CEO to be rather like Mr. Burns, sitting in a dark corner, just hoping the hits on his “trademarked” term go into the billions, so he can collect.

    All I'm saying is that it's rather moot in the long run. Remember when the industry tried to differentiate between “laptops” and “notebooks”? Laptops were desktop-replacement computers that were heavy, but powerful. Notebooks were lighter, less powerful, but more portable. How long did that stick? The two terms are now pretty much interchangeable.

    None of that is to say that Psion has a claim, or that anyone who wants to call their small ultraportable computer a “netbook” shouldn't. [=^)

  • Dizzy

    Ok some ideas here to save the Psion/Intel lawyers making potloads of money, that will raise the price of ALL computers we buy to pay for them.
    1] Let Psion use Netbook (Capital N) as its a name. Everyone else uses netbook (lower case n)
    2] Everyone BUT Psion call them Knetbook, Gnetbook or something, then license everyone else BUT Psion to use it, just because they can.
    3] Call them Notbooks, BarTops, MiniBooks or MinBook, or PalmBooks.

    Excuse me while I register the word windows, just in case Microsoft wants to put glass sheets in their walls to see outside their offices.

  • savethenetbooks

    Offense neither taken nor intended.

    This transition will probably be faster this time because the devices are cheaper and this time round we have a bunch of serious cloud computing offerings to support the netbooks.

    Burns comparison is hilarious.

    StN

  • Mikez

    The law seems to say “sold in inter-state commerce” and no numbers
    mentioned (I.E: 1 or more).

    But I agree with your point, I or probably anyone else reading this,
    could sell more than 20 a year at the local flea market. ;)

  • wayne

    Add another option…

    “PsionBook” – just to piss psion right off :)

    Those “sales” figures look really dodgy. I bought a Psion5 in 98 around their peak popularity. If the 1999 sales figures can be believed, there really can't have been many more sold apart from everyone in my IT department.

    I find it VERY hard to believe the more recent sales happened when they stopped manufacturing ages ago. Who holds onto 7 year old technology inventory and makes more money from it? What was a $800 device upon release would only be $200 after that time (roughly).

    I think they've been to some dodgy accounting course thinking we'll just believe it is still a viable company… how did they employee anyone (including directors) from 2000 – 2004 with sales at that level? Did everyone work for free?

    I smell a rat (or a lawyer – hard to pick which from a distance). LOL

  • http://liliputing.com Brad Linder

    Keep in mind, these are just the US sales. Psion's products were always more popular in Europe than the US.

  • http://www.hpcfactor.com john

    Again you say in the article “they stopped making them in 2003″.

    They didn't stop in 2003. The original netbook stopped in 2003 and was changed to the Netbook Pro which was manufactured from 2004ish through to 2008ish.

    John

  • http://www.hpcfactor.com john

    They are not dodgy at all.

    They made the Netbook (EPOC version) up to 2003 they then made the Netbook Pro (from 2004) and sold it into verticle markets. these vertical markets got functionallity required from the Netbook Pro like RDP and Citrix etc.

    Hence why the sales took off over the next few years.

    John

  • http://www.hpcfactor.com john

    Just to add they are also US figures… The EPOC OS was not a big thing in the US which is another reason for the low sales pre the CE .net 4.2 version of the netbook.

    John

  • Ronak

    I'm not sure how Psion considers themselves relevant in the Netbook industry, when they themselves list their Netbook Pro computer as 'Discontinued' on their website.

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

    It is like Microsoft taking any body to court for using the term windows in their ads if it does not refer to their operating system. Windows is not only an operating system name but also a generic computer term. I think 'netbook' should be treated the same way. With the way courts are now a days, Psion might win. I think that is a loss for every one else.

  • http://www.hpcfactor.com john

    Sorry….

    but intel actually first used the term “netbook” for these devices when they knew psion had sold a similar device for a long period of time called a Netbook.

    Psion took the time and effort to develop and sell a device in this formfactor in 1999 and was still selling the Pro version in 2009 (manufacture stopped in 2008).

    So as far as I am concerned it is only a popular term because of intel when they already knew it was used and would not have been used for these mini laptops if they had suggested it.

    Psion desreve to win.. Or else any big company that wants can just step on any trademark they want with no consequences.

    It's not about whether we now like the term or not but the presidence it sets if intel win.

    John

    PS Intels CPU's were used in the psion netbook (Strongarm then Xscale)

  • Netbook ® Pro

    This is piracy. Intel should have sought cancellation before using Psion’s legitimate trademark name. I believe the courts will be looking for proper procedures rather than wishful thinking of Intel. Therefore, Intel will eventually be forced to pay hefty fines to Psion.

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