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Sony tries to choke off UK PSP imports

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Sony has taken legal action against resellers flogging PlayStation Portable (PSP) devices ahead of the official 1 September European launch. The consumer electronics giant has sent "cease and desist" letters to grey market traders that are selling PSPs to UK punters after importing them from either Japan or the US, where the eagerly sought gadget is already on sale.

PSP can play games, music and films. Supply shortages have obliged Sony to delay the European launch of the console, originally due in March 2005, for more than six months creating a market for parallel import (grey market) sales despite Sony's opposition to the trade.

The Japanese manufacturer is claiming infringement of Trade Mark. But one reseller at the receiving end of the legal nastygrams, ElectricBirdLand, claims that key technologies, trademarks and software utilised in Sony’s new portable gaming platform have not even been registered by Sony in the UK. For example, the PSP trademark has apparently been registered by a small Bristol-based IT and design firm, called Owtanet.

"Sony’s failure to secure these trademarks could potentially lead to further delays to the European launch of the PSP, or could result in the costly re-branding of a product which has already proved to be a hit in the US and Japan," according to ElectricBirdLand.

Dan Morelle, managing director of ElectricBirdLand, said "We are not trying to belittle the Sony brand or damage any future sales as demand for the product is so great. All we offer is the one thing Sony has failed to do, and that is to give the customer exactly what they want, when they want it."

Because PSP games are region-free, companies like ElectricBirdLand and larger retailers can avoid rip-off Britain and buy games outside of Sony’s European distribution channel at a cheaper price, according to Morelle. "Looking at the bigger picture, Sony isn’t concerned about controlling small businesses importing a few units. The real story is about profit," he said.

Sony declined to discuss ElectricBirdLand's criticism of the motives for its legal action or the trademark issues it raises beyond issuing a general statement on its actions.

The cease and desist orders refer only to the ‘PlayStation’ trademark, which Sony does hold. In a statement, Sony said: "We informed trade accounts of our position on this matter in a letter sent out in April, and are now following this through and enforcing our IP rights, where necessary. The law is clear, and the activity of parallel importing of PSP products from the US/Japan is unlawful. It should be clearly understood that under no circumstances does SCE [Sony Computer Entertainment] consent to such activities." ®

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