Dell's filed a challenge to Psion's "Netbook" trademark, asserting that Psion abandoned the term years ago. Moreover, Dell claims that Psion fraudulently misrepresented otherwise in a filing with the trademark office.
Trademarks can become genericized when they slip into everyday use--
Aspirin Dry Ice, Thermos and touch-tone being examples. Companies fight hard to prevent this, ensuring they release a continual stream of products using the trademark and asking journalists not to use their trademarks in a generic sense. For example, Adobe hates it when we photoshop stuff, but loves it when we edit stuff in Photoshop.
On the one hand, Psion actually made a netbook called The Netbook, and still supports it. On the other hand, it's not been on sale for many years, it's not clear whether Psion's claims of continual product support are actually true, and generic use of the phrase to refer to miniature laptops exploded in the last year.
Intel's relentless promotion of the phrase is one cause, but it's clearly the term of choice for consumers and writers alike, and the most effective laptop marketing buzzword in years.
That said, many companies avoid the term because of Psion's trademark. Analysts like the dull "mini notebook," for example, and Sony calls its model a "Lifestyle PC."
After a snarlup with bloggers last year over some badly-targeted legal warnings, Psion said that it's only interested in stopping other computer companies profiting from the term.
So, here's the kicker: Dell never called its netbook a "netbook." Its avoidance of the term was as studious as Sony's, whose avoidance of it carried a hint of corporate pride: it didn't want consumers to associate its swishy Vaio P with the herd.
Dell's netbook, however, is a popular budget model. Psion's not come after Dell in the courts. Dell's already established its own marketing terminology around "Mini Inspiron." So what gives?
It just happens to be the company most desperate to begin exploiting the Netbook buzz on a huge scale--something Psion is clearly in no position to do.
Is the term dear to your heart? Check out Save the Netbooks!
Petition for cancellation (PDF) [USPTO]