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Blogger fights Psion's claim to 'netbook' name

'Considerable chutzpah'

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A campaign has been launched to thwart Psion Techlogix's attempt to re-assert its trademark over the name "netbook".

A blogger who claimed to have helped thwart Dell's attempt to trademark "cloud computing" has called on OEMs and retailers to stand their ground and continue using the phrase "netbook" when describing sub-notebooks and their components past a deadline of March 31.

Sam Johnson has also called on Google to reverse an AdWords ban on the use of the phrase "netbooks," for consumers to boycott "offending products", and for journalists and bloggers to continue employing "netbook" and reject alternatives such as "ultra-portable".

Johnson claimed one early victory, saying the Google AdWords netbook ban appeared to have been lifted. Asked about the potential changes, Google told The Reg it does not comment on specific keywords.

A cursory search online, meanwhile, showed both search engine companies and retailers continue to use the phrase "netbook" in their search terms or their product description pages. Google, MSN and Yahoo pulled back pages that described "netbooks" from OEMs, while online and clicks-and-mortar retailers Amazon, Newegg, Buy.com, and Target among others continued to run product descriptions of sub-noteboks as netbooks.

Johnson, the chief technology officer for cloud services company Australian Online Solutions, is basing his campaign on the fact that the phrase "netbook" is too generic to be owned or enforced by a single company.

Accordingly, he has listed product pages from Asus, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Fujitusu, Lenovo, Samsung, Toshiba, and Microsoft among others that directly refer to netbooks or netbook-related products.

The company's claim is further weakened, he said, by the fact Psion is asserting its trademark now that the netbook market is turning into a multi-billion-dollar industry having let its own "Netbook" brand lapse. He complimented the company for "considerable chutzpah."

The campaign comes after Psion last month issued a statement confirming that in December, it had sent hundreds of letters to OEMs and retailers asking they stop using the phrase "netbook" to describe sub-notebook machines, claiming it infringes on registered trademarks in the US, Europe, Canada, Singapore, and Hong Kong.

The letter gave recipients until March 31 to stop using "netbook" and find some alternative, while January's smoothly worded statement (here (warning: PDF)) said litigation was a last resort.

Psion trademarked the name "Netbook" in 1996 and shipped its first device in 1999. That line stopped with the Netbook Pro in 2003 running Windows CE, and Netbook today refers to a line of accessories like battery packs.

Rather incredibly, Psion has argued the phrase "netbook" cannot be considered a generic term because there are so few devices out there.

OK.

Yet, it goes on, things reached some kind of mysterious tipping point in the third quarter of 2008. That's because the industry's continued use of the term "netbook" risked finding its way into consumers' consciousness, producing a critical mass, resulting in the genericisation of the trademark.

"Even though 'netbook' is not yet a generic term for ordinary buyers of these products, it could become so soon if retailers (and others) persist in calling these devices 'netbooks'," the company's statement claimed.

Psion did not respond to questions to answer what precisely happened on or about the third quarter to spur it to action. According to the statement, though: "Psion acted promptly once it became clear that the threat of genericisation was real and growing."

The company was being cagey on what it planned to do should it scare people off using "netbook" so glibly. "We have been considering adding new models to our 'Netbook' line for a while, but our policy is not to pre-announce new products," the statement said. ®

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