Friday

FACE IT PSION: NETBOOK IS GONE

For all the ink that gets spilled( mostly by trademark lawyers) about the danger of a trademark becoming generic- the reality is that very very few trademarks are legally determined to be generic. Unfortunatley Psion, a Canadian computer company, has most likely dedicated the term netbook to those consumers shopping for a personal computer smaller than a laptop- a netbook.

Several years ago Psion introduced a small peronal computer that they apparently called a Netbook. The product languished and Psion eventually stopped selling it. In 2003 Psion introduced a new hand held computer. And they decided to call it the NETBOOK PRO. Apparently this product also met with limited success.
Some time after 2003 several other companies began to produce computers smaller than laptops. These computers were meant primarily for browsing the Internet. Larger than a cellphone but still very portable, they were called netbooks. And as a genus they have become wildly popular.

Fast forward to December 2008. Psion sent cease and desist letters to numerous folks engaged in manufacturing or selling netbook computers. Trying to put the genie back in the bottle.
IMHO it is far far too late for Psion to successfully assert any claim of right in the term netbook as a trademark. Why? Three reasons: Widespread adoption by the consuming public, a Wikipedia entry for netbook as a type of laptop computer, and most harmful to Psion, their own misuse of the term netbook.

In the October 2003 press release announcing the NETBOOK PRO Psion said: THE NETBOOK PRO is a unique.....; And further on The launch of the NETBOOK PRO signals... And even further on With NETBOOK PRO'S striking full-colour SVGA screen...

One of the basic rules of proper trademark use is that trademarks modify nouns. But Psion was guilty of using the term NETBOOK as a noun- that is to say as the genus rather than the species for computers. If one is using a brand properly it should be possible to remove the brand from advertising copy and have the copy still make sense. If one removes the term NETBOOK from Psion's press release one is left with gibberish.

I remember not once, mot twice, but countless times, advising clients: If you don't treat your brands properly how can you expect to get sympathy from the courts when you attempt to enforce your rights in those brands?
I am afraid Psion will now have to wrestle with an answer to that question.

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