Have you seen that new Sony Netbook? The one small enough to fit in your purse? The term netbook is typically used to describe ultra-portable network-enabled laptop computers that are used primarily for low intensity wireless activities like emailing and surfing the web. The typical size of a netbook screen ranges from seven inches to eleven inches and the keyboard is about 85% of a normal laptop keyboard. Psion was the first company to coin the term netbook and bring such ultra-portable devices to the market in 1999. Later on, starting with Asus, who released their Eee PC netbook in 2007, many other industry leaders began to follow suit by introducing their own line of netbooks to the market. Some examples include Sony’s P Series Netbook, the Hewlett Packard Mini 1000 Netbook and the Dell Inspiron Mini 9 Netbook.
It turns out that Psion Teklogix – a company created by merger of Psion and Teklogix – has held the trademark for the term netbook since 2000. In an effort to defend the Psion netbook trademark, the company began issuing cease and desist letters to everyone in the industry that has been using the term netbook. Those who have received these letters, including retailers, manufacturers, bloggers and netbook enthusiast websites have until March 2009 to stop using the term.
Both giant industry players and individual users alike are fighting to have the trademark overturned. A grassroots Save the Netbooks Campaign has been launched and both Intel and Dell have filed a request for declaratory judgment against Psion with the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Intel, Dell and others who support the overturning of the netbook trademark claim that the term has become generic. Typically, terms that have become generic are those that are associated with products and services that have acquired substantial market dominance or mind share. Examples of generic terms are kerosene and bandaid. Legally, when a term becomes generic, the intellectual property rights in the trademark may be lost.
One certainly has to wonder: what took Psion so long to defend its trademark? The first netbook that appeared after Psion’s own line was the Asus Eee PC netbook (launched in fall of 2007). Why did Psion not take any action then? Why did they wait more than one year? Psion’s inaction with respect to the Eee PC netbook was almost like a signal to other companies that the use of the term netbook was acceptable. It seems as though the widespread use of the term is Psion’s own doing and that the company is scrambling to do now what it failed to do a year ago.
It has also been alleged that Psion no longer has any use for the term. Psion’s netbook line was discontinued in 2003, and while the company still sells accessories for netbooks, it no longer markets any other netbook-type products. Even if those who received the cease and desist letters complied to Psion’s request, how would this benefit the company? Perhaps Psion believes that the reason why current netbooks on the market are so successful is because of their jump onto the netbook bandwagon. Or perhaps it is all a publicity ploy; in this cutting-edge industry, Psion wants to remind the world of its innovative prowess, foresight and ability to be way ahead of its time.