jkOnTheRun Op-Ed: the Psion netbook trademark situation

eee-pc-21The news that broke this holiday weekend about the move by Psion Teklogix to step in and start enforcing their “netbook” trademark ruffled a lot of feathers.  The netbook term has been reported to have been created by Intel and thus fair game for Psion according to some.

I’ve been giving this whole situation a lot of thought and want to weigh in with my thoughts on this trademark thing with Psion.  First of all we should set the record straight, Intel did not create the term “netbook” to describe the sub-notebooks that they have come to describe.  The term started appearing on many different web sites and from different sources and it wasn’t until the term seemed clear to stick that Intel moved in and started using it officially.

I believe this is important to clarify because the way the netbook term came to be is the same way that other generic terms come to be used.  The public starts using the term to describe a product or class of products and that’s what sticks.  This is not fair to lay on the feet of Intel, the term was already being used when they jumped on it.  They actually were trying to get the term MID popular, something that has only been somewhat successful.

So even if the term netbook has been generically adopted to describe the little notebooks what does that mean given this Psion situation?  I’m not a lawyer so I can’t really say.  I have mixed emotions about this, I am a firm believer in the right of entities to protect their trademarks and intellectual property.  Psion did have an actual product named the netBook and they did trademark the name.  That means something to me and it should.

The problem sets in when you realize that this product is not produced nor sold currently, and hasn’t been for a few years.  You can make an argument that there is no product so there should be no claim to the trademark.  That doesn’t exactly fit though as Psion does actively support the netBook product even today.  So you can make a case either way, Psion deserves to enforce the trademark or they should let it go.

I believe the reason that some are reacting negatively toward Psion has to do with their waiting until the netbook term became very commonly used for the sub-notebooks.  I’ve seen many comments to the effect that Psion should have stepped forward when the term was first bandied about months ago.  There is some merit to this argument but not doubt Psion will respond that they were waiting until it was apparent the “misuse” of the term was going to continue.

Whatever side of this fence you sit on this will be interesting to see how it unfolds.  Trademarks are serious things and should be treated as such.  The argument can be made that they are enforceable no matter what is going on or how long the “misuse” has been taking place.  It’s not straight-forward as you can see.

Imagine this hypothetical scenario: Company X steps forward today and claims that the term “notebook” is in fact their trademarked term.  Research shows that years ago Compnay X did in fact trademark the term so their claim is legitimate.  That aside what could be done about it?  The term notebook has been used by everyone dealing with laptops for years and it’s a very generic term now.  It’s not clear-cut what would or should happen.

Let’s just start using a different term.  Psion will be happy and everyone except Intel will be happy.  They’ll have to get a different domain for their netbook web site but so be it.

Based on a successful Psion campaign to get their trademark back, what should we call these little cheap laptops?  We’re interested to hear what you think, leave your new name in the comments and let’s see if something sticks.

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