Psion, a maker of ultraportable computers, embarked last month on reaffirming the "netbook" trademark it has held since 2000. The company's lawyers sent letters to retailers and PC manufacturers ordering them to stop using the term. Letters also were sent to Web sites sponsoring advertising or for-profit links that prominently use the word.
Dell this month filed a dispute with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, asking the agency to overturn the trademark. Dell has experience in this area. The office approved Dell's trademark request for the term "cloud computing," but the agency later overturned its decision following protests from tech companies, which argued the term was generic and could not be trademarked.
The same argument is being used against Psion by Dell and now Intel. In a 13-page federal court filing seeking cancellation of the trademark, Intel argues that the public has already adopted "'netbook' as a generic term for a category of notebook computers that are small, inexpensive, and contain less processing power, making them optimal for connecting to the Internet, or 'Net.' "
"It is well established that 'netbook' does not operate to identify a single source, or brand, of any such computer; netbooks are simply extensions of the netbook category, smaller computers purpose-built for mobile Internet access," Intel said in the Feb. 13 filing.
A key element of Intel's argument is that Psion did not use the netbook trademark for three consecutive years and did not exercise its trademark rights soon enough to prevent the term's genericism. Psion, however, claims that threat did not become apparent until the third quarter of last year.
"Before that time it was quite possible that a different descriptive term would have become adopted," Psion said in a statement. "Psion acted promptly once it became clear that the threat of genericism was real and growing."
While Psion battles in the legal arena, the company has had some success in the marketplace. Last month, after Psion filed a complaint with Google, the latter company agreed to prohibit all search advertisements that include the term "netbook."
Netbooks have been used in the tech industry to describe laptops with screens of 10 inches or less. The devices run a full-fledged operating system, typically Windows XP or Linux, and cost less than $500, with $300 models readily available. The devices are the fastest-growing category in the PC market.
While the term "netbook" is common in the tech industry, it's unclear whether it's regularly used among the general public.
Learn more about all the latest products and technologies at TechWeb's Interop Las Vegas, May 17-21. Join us (registration required).