Trademarks And Netbooks

from the which-way-do-we-go dept

I've been considering buying myself a "netbook" recently -- the mini-notebook computers that have become quite popular in the last year or so. As was recently discussed, such mini-notebooks have been around for years, but have finally figured out how to hit that right sweetspot that makes them worth buying in large numbers. I'd been following the various products on the market to try to figure out which one to get, but I realized recently that I had no idea where the whole "netbook" classification had come from. The Asus EeePC got plenty of attention when it launched about a year ago, and then there were plenty of follow up machines -- and somewhere along the line they all got lumped into the "netbook" category.

There's one company that isn't pleased at all: Psion.

For mobile computing geeks -- especially those in Europe, the Psion netBook was quite well known for years in the early part of this decade, as offering a pretty decent tiny computer, that (for whatever reason) never was much of a hit in the US. Either way, Psion gave up on the product somewhere along the way, but retains the trademark on the name, and caused a bit of a stir last week by sending out some cease and desist letters about the use of the term, noting (correctly) that it owned the trademark. There was some confusion over reports that some of these letters went to blogs and enthusiast sites, but the lawyers representing Psion were quick to clarify that most of the letters were sent to manufacturers and retailers -- with just a few that went to sites that actively ran advertisements for "netbooks."

Psion is probably in the legal right here -- though, there's a decent chance that they're too late on stopping the netbook name from becoming generic. While Psion claims that it still sells accessories for netBooks, it really doesn't sell the actual netBooks any more, so going the legal route seems a bit pointless. Why not capitalize on the trend by trying to sell products for today's netbooks, while noting that it was the original netbook maker. Rather than trying to keep the term tied to a dead market, why not use the fact that Psion was an early player in the space to help build up its own cred in today's market? The strategy of trying to get the world to use a different name, while legally correct, just seems short-sighted overall.


Reader Comments (rss)

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  1.  
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    SRS, Dec 29th, 2008 @ 5:13am

    What happened to Psion?

    Psion: a British company once known for innovative, well-priced products - the Psion 3a and 5 were so far ahead of their time, and a great success in Europe - now known only for Cease and Desist letters. Sad.

     

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  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 29th, 2008 @ 5:17am

    yea, by now the name is generic. If they are going to win they are going to need some tough lawyers that will outclass their competition... which might not be possible.

     

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  3.  
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    chris (profile), Dec 29th, 2008 @ 5:24am

    funny observations

    it does seem kind of pointless to defend the trademark on something you are no longer marketing or selling, but this is probably a cash grab or some other power play conceived and executed the legal department. cisco and apple got into a spat over the term "iphone" a while back and we can see how that turned out.

    on the topic of netbooks here are a couple of random funny observations i have made:

    funny observation #1:
    via releases it's open notebook reference design and coincidentally everyone gets into the netbook market over night: http://www.via.com.tw/en/initiatives/spearhead/openbook

    only these netbooks that have sprung up are based on intel's atom processor and are not of a very open design. that doesn't stop fans from building communities around the popular models (the EEE and the MSI wind most notably)

    funny observation #2:
    apple's conspicuous abscence from the netbook movement (the macbook air is the antithesis of a netbook from a price perspective) has lead to some folks taking matters into their own hands:

    http://www.engadget.com/2008/12/15/realtek-employees-leak-os-x-wifi-drivers-for-the-msi-u100-win d

    http://gizmodo.com/5109902/msi-encourages-hackintosh-leaks-os-x-wi+fi-drivers-for-the-wind

    t he MSI wind, both the netbook variety, and the desktop eqivalent, which some refer to as a nettop, have made the hackintosh (OSX runing on non apple hardware) almost mainstream. it will be interesting to see if/how apple responds.

    funny observation #3:

    the most popular varieties of netbook are those with strong communities built around them, most notably the asus EEE and the MSI wind. coincidentally, these netbooks are not made by popular laptop manufacturers like dell or IBM (though both companies have netbooks available) but by taiwanese companies that are famous for making motherboards.

    conventional wisdom says that companies with a history of making cheap laptops (compaq and acer most notably, but acer does make a fairly popular netbook) would dominate this space. makes you wonder what other possibilities can open up for companies that are willing to move a little bit outside their core competencies.

     

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  4.  
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    Ima Fish, Dec 29th, 2008 @ 5:47am

    I'm surprised that no one has pointed out that the term "netbook" is also merely descriptive and probably should not have been trademarked in the first place.

     

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  5.  
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    Daniel, Dec 29th, 2008 @ 5:54am

    Buying a netbook

    Be careful purchasing a netbook of any brand. Buyers are already complaining about what is involved to upgrade the memory and even hard drive. One model requires you to disassemble almost the entire thing before you get the RAM chip, and the hard drive is supposedly packed in also.

    Read the comments on newegg.com before making a purchase whilst thinking you can upgrade. This can save you a lot of time in the long run.

     

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  6.  
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    Bogus Dudus, Dec 29th, 2008 @ 6:00am

    trademarks r us

    Psion netbook - finally, a new kleenex for the computer industry . . .

     

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  7.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 29th, 2008 @ 6:08am

    Given the facts noted in various news articles it does seem Psion is spreading its arms trying to hold back the tide. Nevertheless, most companies to not lightly embark on matters like this, so I do have to wonder what Psion may have as upcoming product offerings that rely on its "Netbook" trademark. It appears that some important facts are not as yet known that may cast its actions in a different light.

    Only time will tell, but that time had better be soon lest it find itself on the losing end of trying to assert its trademark.

     

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  8.  
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    Terry Smith, Dec 29th, 2008 @ 6:23am

    Re:

    Netbook is a completely made up word, what are you talking about? Much like iPod is!

     

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  9.  
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    CastorTroy-Libertarian, Lover, General Annoyance f, Dec 29th, 2008 @ 6:47am

    I have a "netbook" as an little email and webmachine when i travel, in that regard it works great. I still have my big desktop for day to day at home and work stuff, but the "netbook" is my tool for just checking a movie time or when i just want to cruise, like now. - its a good small investment for what it is, a small "netbook".

    Now on topic, i would think by now, "netbook" is more descriptive and generic than what Psion wants it to be, lets be honest, couple to 3 years ago it was a good name for a inovative product, now its just generic nothing more, if i where Psion i would re-introduce the netbook as the Netbook and unless another computer company tried to name theirs that as well, let it go and have everyone using my name to spread the word, it might cost them a couple of sales, but it should generate many many more.

     

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  10.  
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    Peet McKimmie (profile), Dec 29th, 2008 @ 6:56am

    Re: funny observations

    it does seem kind of pointless to defend the trademark on something you are no longer marketing or selling


    That's what they said about the situation with the BBC and the "Doctor Who" copyright in the 1990s. You never know when a trademark will pick up.

     

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  11.  
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    Peet McKimmie (profile), Dec 29th, 2008 @ 7:02am

    Re: Buying a netbook

    Buyers are already complaining about what is involved to upgrade the memory and even hard drive.


    Well, duh! The term "Netbook" has become synonymous with "mobile-computing-as-an-appliance". It means a machine that does exactly what it says on the box - no more, no less, and there's little or no chance of upgrading. If you want to upgrade this is the wrong form factor for you.

     

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  12.  
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    f2point8, Dec 29th, 2008 @ 7:04am

    Re: netbook trademark

    I think your point based only on the wisdom of hindsight. A few years back NetBook was not a common term that would describe something unique. The term for these computers was, "task-oriented mobile computing device." See
    http://reviews.zdnet.co.uk/hardware/notebooks/0,1000000333,39116901,00.htm
    In 2003 NetBook was a product, not generic term.
    This article makes me think Psion might have something of their own on the drawing board.

     

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  13.  
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    f2point8, Dec 29th, 2008 @ 7:20am

    Re: Buying a netbook

    Why on earth would anybody think these appliances would be easy to upgrade? If they were designed for upgrade then they'd be 10 pound laptops. Or are you just looking for a $300 laptop? Good luck.

     

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  14.  
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    Rod MacPherson, Dec 29th, 2008 @ 9:31am

    Re: Re: funny observations

    Of course BBC was still selling Dr. Who tapes, DVDs and books. (ok they didn't sell the books directly, but they sold the rights to use the names and such to publishers who made books) Just because they weren't actively making new TV series doesn't mean that it would have been ok to just swoop in and steal the name from them when they were still producing products with that name.

     

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  15.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 29th, 2008 @ 9:43am

    They've become the Kleenex of ultra-portable computers. I would be proud.

     

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  16.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 29th, 2008 @ 10:41am

    picturebook anyone

    Anybody remember the sony vaio picturebooks from the early 90s? That was one cool machine to lug around..

     

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  17.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 29th, 2008 @ 11:26am

    Well, duh! The term "Netbook" has become synonymous with "mobile-computing-as-an-appliance". It means a machine that does exactly what it says on the box - no more, no less, and there's little or no chance of upgrading. If you want to upgrade this is the wrong form factor for you.


    I know that. You know that. But just because we know it doesn't mean everyone reading these forums *magically* knows it. Those that don't know can't read your mind. I posted that as general knowledge so people who didn't know it will know it if/when they decide to get one.

     

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  18.  
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    Lawrence D'Oliveiro, Dec 29th, 2008 @ 1:49pm

    Alternatives to "netbook"

    I think Microsoft was trying at one point to promote the term "Ultra Low-Cost PC" (ULCPC). Typical ponderous Microsoft verbiage...

    Less-reverent terms from sites like The Inquirer and The Register are "laptot" and "kneetop". Both of which I find quite appealing. :)

     

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  19.  
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    inc, Dec 29th, 2008 @ 4:57pm

    My brain sees psion but thinks poison...

     

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  20.  
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    Save the Netbooks, Feb 17th, 2009 @ 9:18am

    Netbook is a portmanteau of Internet and Notebook...

    ...just like Netizen is a blend of "Internet" and "Citizen".

    Thus it is merely descriptive of a class of Internet native notebooks. To be enforceable a mark needs to act as a source identifier, which is to say that when you hear "netbook" you need to think "Psion" and obviously few of us do...

    Read more at http://www.savethenetbooks.com/

     

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  21.  
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    Save the Netbooks, Feb 17th, 2009 @ 9:21am

    Re: Alternatives to "netbook"

    What about "netbook" implies that they have to be "low cost" - there's nothing stopping apple for example releasing a 15 inch "netbook" that's more expensive than your average notebook... the term itself pertains to it being an Internet device - not its size nor its price.

     

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