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.

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Companies: psion

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Comments on “Trademarks And Netbooks”

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chris (profile) says:

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:

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:

the 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.

Rod MacPherson says:

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.

Save the Netbooks (user link) says:

Re: Re: 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…


f2point8 says:

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,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.

Daniel says:

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 before making a purchase whilst thinking you can upgrade. This can save you a lot of time in the long run.

Peet McKimmie (profile) says:

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.

Anonymous Coward says:

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.

CastorTroy-Libertarian, Lover, General Annoyance f says:

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.

Anonymous Coward says:

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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