Trend Micro abandons Intercloud™ trademark application

Just when I thought we were going to be looking at another trademark debacle not unlike Dell’s attempt at “cloud computing” back in 2008 (see Dell cloud computing™ denied) it seems luck is with us in that Trend Micro have abandoned their application #77018125 for a trademark on the term Intercloud (see NewsFlash: Trend Micro trademarks the Intercloud™). They had until 5 February 2010 to file for an extension and according to USPTO’s Trademark Document Retrieval system they have now well and truly missed the date (the last extension was submitted at the 11th hour, at 6pm on the eve of expiry).

Like Dell, Trend Micro were issued a “Notice of Allowance” on 5 August 2008 (actually Dell’s “Notice of Allowance” for #77139082 was issued less than a month before, on 8 July 2008, and cancelled just afterwards, on 7 August 2008). Unlike Dell though, Trend Micro just happened to be in the right place at the right time rather than attempting to lay claim to an existing, rapidly developing technology term (“cloud computing”).

Having been issued a Notice of Allowance both companies just had to submit a Statement of Use and the trademarks were theirs. With Dell it was just lucky that I happened to discover and reveal their application during this brief window (after which the USPTO cancelled their application following widespread uproar), but with Trend Micro it’s likely they don’t actually have a product today with which to use the trademark.

A similar thing happened to Psion late 2008, who couldn’t believe their luck when the term “netbook” became popular long after they had discontinued their product line by the same name. Having realised they still held an active trademark, they threatened all and sundry over it, eventually claiming Intel had “unclean hands” and asking for $1.2bn, only to back down when push came to shove. One could argue that as we have “submarine patents“, we also have “submarine trademarks”.

In this case, back on September 25, 2006 Trend Micro announced a product coincidentally called “InterCloud” (see Trend Micro Takes Unprecedented Approach to Eliminating Botnet Threats with the Unveiling of InterCloud Security Service), which they claimed was “the industry’s most advanced solution for identifying botnet activity and offering customers the ability to quarantine and optionally clean bot-infected PCs“. Today’s Intercloud is a global cloud of clouds, in the same way that the Internet is a global network of networks – clearly nothing like what Trend Micro had in mind. It’s also both descriptive (a portmanteau describing interconnected clouds) and generic (in that it cannot serve as a source identifier for a given product or service), which basically means it should be found ineligible for trademark protection should anyone apply again in future.

Explaining further, the Internet has kept us busy for a few decades simply by passing packets between clients and servers (most of the time). It’s analogous to the bare electricity grid, allowing connected nodes to transfer electrical energy between one another (typically from generators to consumers but with alternative energy sometimes consumers are generators too). Cloud computing is like adding massive, centralised power stations to the electricity grid, essentially giving it a life of its own.

I like the term Intercloud, mainly because it takes the focus away from the question of “What is cloud?”, instead drawing attention to interoperability and standards where it belongs. Kudos to Trend Micro for this [in]action – whether intentional or unintentional.

Twitter Retries Registering Retweet

Hopefully you’re not sick of hearing about Twitter, Inc’s trademark woes (and yet another alliteration) because yes, they’ve been at it again.

Conceding that the USPTO has successfully torpedoed their trademark on “tweet” but otherwise undeterred they’ve just tried to lay claim to the more specific term “retweet” (#77804841). While admittedly more distinctive (and therefore less problematic from a legal point of view), let’s not forget that they recently came under fire from developers for unjustly suspending‘s @retweet account, having announced plans for an official retweet function of their own (more on Project Retweet at Mashable).

This functionality could well prove as important for microblogging as Google’s PageRank did for Internet search and it’s definitely not the sort of thing we want to have locked up with a single provider. The idea is that it provides a way to value a user’s contribution based on how many people (and who) retweet a user’s tweets (a TweetRank, for want of a better name).

So what’s the problem with Twitter, Inc registering “retweet” as a trademark? It’s not theirs to register, that’s what. That’s right, the “gesture and syntax of retweet was invented by users” and even Twitter’s own web interface still lacks the very functionality they are trying to take control of (and will for weeks to come no less). The retweet “micro-convention” has been meticulously documented and extensively discussed by active twitterers (twits?) who have gone so far as to write an essay on retweeting etiquette. Nothing I have seen anywhere credits Twitter with the invention of the retweet (which according to Google Trends took off at the start of this year) and in my opinion asking the authorities to remove this term from the public lexicon is nothing short of highway robbery.

It’s no secret they didn’t come up with the idea either. Shooting themselves in the foot once again, Twitter’s help pages (archived for posterity) define retweeting as follows (emphasis mine):

What does RT, or retweet mean?
RT is short for retweet, and indicates a re-posting of someone else’s tweet. This isn’t an official Twitter command or feature, but people add RT somewhere in a tweet to indicate that part of their tweet includes something they’re re-posting from another person’s tweet, sometimes with a comment of their own.Check out this great article on re-tweeting, written by a fellow Twitter user, @ruhanirabin.

So there you have it, even Twitter admit the idea isn’t theirs, defining it as a verb (another sure fire way to destroy a trademark) and then referring to a user article for more information. Of course that won’t stop them claiming it as their own now with a view to preventing competitors from delivering it themselves.

To put things in perspective that’s about as reasonable as Google claiming ownership of our ideas because they’re in their index.

Unfortunately though I have a sneaking suspicion that Twitter will get away with it this time unless we stand our ground now. are in a particularly good position to prevent this from happening (they already claim trademark status over the word):

TRADEMARK INFORMATION, the logo and other Mesiab Labs trademarks including service marks, and product and service names are Mesiab Labs trademarks or registered trademarks in the United States and in other countries (the “Mesiab Labs Marks”). All other names and designs may be trademarks of their respective owners. Users may display or use the and Mesiab Labs Marks only in accordance with Mesiab Labs Trademark Use Guidelines.

Here’s hoping they (or one of the many other retweet sites) file an opposition to the trademark when the appropriate time comes.

“Twitter” Trademark in Trouble Too

Yesterday I apparently struck a nerve in revealing Twitter’s “Tweet” Trademark Torpedoed. The follow up commentary both on this blog and on Twitter itself was interesting and insightful, revealing that in addition to likely losing “tweet” (assuming you accept that it was ever theirs to lose) the recently registered Twitter trademark itself (#77166246) and pending registrations for the Twitter logo (#77721757, #77721751) are also on very shaky ground.

Trademarks 101

Before we get into details as to how this could happen lt’s start with some background. A trademark is one of three main types of intellectual property (the others being copyrights and patents) in which society grants a monopoly over a “source identifier” (e.g. a word, logo, scent, etc.) in return for being given some guarantee of quality (e.g. I know what I’m getting when I buy a bottle of black liquid bearing the Coke® branding). Anybody can claim to have a trademark but generally they are registered which makes the process of enforcing the mark much easier. The registration process itself is thus more of a sanity check – making sure everything is in order, fees are paid, the mark is not obviously broken (that is, unable to function as a source identifier) and perhaps most importantly, that it doesn’t clash with other marks already issued.

Trademarks are also jurisdictional in that they apply to a given territory (typically a country but also US states) but to make things easier it’s possible to use the Madrid Protocol to extend a valid trademark in one territory to any number of others (including the EU which is known as a “Community Trademark”). Of course if the first trademark fails (within a certain period of time) then those dependent on it are also jeopardised. Twitter have also filed applications using this process.

Moving right along, there are a number of different types of trademarks, starting with the strongest and working back:

  • Fanciful marks are created specifically to be trademarks (e.g. Kodak) – these are the strongest of all marks.
  • Arbitrary marks have a meaning but not in the context in which they are used as a trademark. We all know what an apple is but when used in the context of computers it is meaningless (which is how Apple Computer is protected, though they did get in trouble when they started selling music and encroached on another trademark in the process). Similarly, you can’t trademark “yellow bananas” but you’d probably get away with “blue bananas” or “cool bananas” because they don’t exist.
  • Suggestive marks hint at some quality or characteristic without describing the product (e.g. Coppertone for sun-tan lotion)
  • Descriptive marks describe some quality or characteristic of the product and are unregistrable in most trademark offices and unprotectable in most courts. “Cloud computing” was found to be both generic and descriptive by USPTO last year in denying Dell. Twitter is likely considered a descriptive trademark (but one could argue it’s now also generic).
  • Generic marks cannot be protected as the name of a product or service cannot function as a source identifier (e.g. Apple in the context of fruits, but not in the context of computers and music)


Twitter’s off to a bad start already in their selection of names – while Google is a deliberate misspelling of the word googol (suggesting the enormous number of items indexed), the English word twitter has a well established meaning that relates directly to the service Twitter, Inc. provides. It’s the best part of 1,000 years old too, derived around 1325–75 from ME twiteren (v.); akin to G zwitschern:

– verb (used without object)

1. to utter a succession of small, tremulous sounds, as a bird.
2. to talk lightly and rapidly, esp. of trivial matters; chatter.
3. to titter, giggle.
4. to tremble with excitement or the like; be in a flutter.

– verb (used with object)

5. to express or utter by twittering.

– noun

6. an act of twittering.
7. a twittering sound.
8. a state of tremulous excitement.

Although the primary meaning people associate these days is that of a bird, it cannot be denied that “twitter” also means “to talk lightly and rapidly, esp. of trivial matters; chatter“. The fact it is now done over the Internet matters not in the same way that one can “talk” or “chat” over it (and telephones for that matter) despite the technology not existing when the words were conceived. Had “twitter” have tried to obtain a monopoly over a more common words like “chatter” and “chat” there’d have been hell to pay, but that’s not to say they should get away with it now.

Let’s leave the definition at that for now as twitter have managed to secure registration of their trademark (which does not imply that it is enforceable). The point is that this is the weakest type of trademark already and some (including myself) would argue that it a) should never have been allowed and b) will be impossible to enforce. To make matters worse, Twitter itself has gained an entry in the dictionary as both a noun (“a website where people can post short messages about their current activities“) and a verb (“to write short messages on the Twitter website“) as well as the AP Sytlebook for good measure. This could constitute “academic credability” or “trademark kryptonite” depending how you look at it.


This brings us to the more pertinent point, trademark enforcement, which can essentially be summed up as “use it or lose it”. As at today I have not been able to find any reference whatsoever, anywhere on, to any trademark rights claimed by Twitter, Inc. Sure they assert copyright (“© 2009 Twitter”) but that’s something different altogether – I have never seen this before and to be honest I can’t believe my eyes. I expect they will fix this promptly in the wake of this post by sprinking disclaimers and [registered®] trademark (TM) and servicemark (SM) symbols everywhere, but the Internet Archive never lies so once again it’s likely too little too late. If you don’t tell someone it’s a trademark then how are they supposed to avoid infringing it?

Terms of Service

The single reference to trademarks (but not “twitter” specifically) I found was in the terms of service (which are commendably concise):

We reserve the right to reclaim usernames on behalf of businesses or individuals that hold legal claim or trademark on those usernames.

That of course didn’t stop them suspending @retweet shortly after filing for the ill-fated “tweet” trademark themselves, but that’s another matter altogether. The important point is that they don’t claim trademark rights and so far as I can tell, never have.


To rub salt in the (gaping) wound they (wait for it, are you sitting down?) offer their high resolution logos for anyone to use with no mention whatsoever as to how they should and shouldn’t be used (“Download our logos“) – a huge no-no for trademarks which must be associated with some form of quality control. Again there is no trademark claim, no ™ or ® symbols, and for the convenience of invited infringers, no less than three different high quality source formats (PNG, Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop):


Then there’s the advertising, oh the advertising. Apparently Twitter HQ didn’t get the memo about exercising extreme caution when using your trademark; lest be the trademark holder who refers to her product or service as a noun or a verb but Twitter does both, even in 3rd-party advertisements (good luck trying to get an AdWords ad containing the word “Google”):

Internal Misuse

Somebody from Adobe or Google please explain to Twitter why it’s important to educate users that they don’t “google” or “photoshop”, rather “search using Google®” and “edit using Photoshop®”. Here’s some more gems from the help section:

  • Now that you’re twittering, find new friends or follow people you already know to get their twitter updates too.
  • Wondering who sends tweets from your area?
  • @username + message directs a twitter at another person, and causes your twitter to save in their “replies” tab.
  • FAV username marks a person’s last twitter as a favorite.
  • People write short updates, often called “tweets” of 140 characters or fewer.
  • Tweets with @username elsewhere in the tweet are also collected in your sidebar tab; tweets starting with @username are replies, and tweets with @username elsewhere are considered mentions.
  • Can I edit a tweet once I post it?
  • What does RT, or retweet, mean? RT is short for retweet, and indicates a re-posting of someone else’s tweet. This isn’t an official Twitter command or feature, but people add RT somewhere in a tweet to indicate that part of their tweet includes something they’re re-posting from another person’s tweet, sometimes with a comment of their own. Check out this great article on re-tweeting, written by a fellow Twitter user, @ruhanirabin. <- FAIL x 7


According to this domain search there are currently 6,263 domains using the word “twitter”, almost all in connection with microblogging. To put that number in perspective, if Twitter wanted to take action against these registrants given current UDRP rates for a single panelist we’re talking $9,394,500 in filing fees alone (or around 1.5 billion nigerian naira if that’s not illustrative enough for you). That’s not including the cost of preparing the filings, representation, etc. that their lawyers (Fenwick & West LLP) would likely charge them.

If you (like Doug Champigny) happen to be on the receiving end of one of these letters recently you might just want to politely but firmly point them at the UDRP and have them prove, among other things, that you were acting in bad faith (don’t bother coming crying to me if they do though – this post is just one guy’s opinion and IANAL remember ;).

I could go on but I think you get the picture – Twitter has done such a poor job of protecting the Twitter trademark that they run the risk of losing it forever and becoming a lawschool textbook example of what not to do. There are already literally thousands of products and services [ab]using their brand and while some have recently succombed to the recent batch legal threats they may well have more trouble now that people know their rights and the problem is being actively discussed. Furthermore, were it not for being extremely permissive with the Twitter brand from the outset they arguably would not have had anywhere near as large a following as they do now. It is only with the dedicated support of the users and developers they are actively attacking that they have got as far as they have.

The Problem: A Microblogging Monopoly

Initially it was my position that Twitter had built their brand and deserved to keep it, but that they had gone too far with “tweet”. Then in the process of writing this story I re-read the now infamous May The Tweets Be With You post that prompted the USPTO to reject their application hours later and it changed my mind too. Most of the media coverage took the money quote out of context but here it is in its entirity (emphasis mine):

We have applied to trademark Tweet because it is clearly attached to Twitter from a brand perspective but we have no intention of “going after” the wonderful applications and services that use the word in their name when associated with Twitter.

Do you see what’s happening here? I can’t believe I missed it on the first pass. Twitter are happy for you to tweet to your heart’s content provided you use their service. That is, they realised that outside of the network effects of having millions of users all they really do is push 1’s and 0’s around (and poorly at that). They go on to say:

However, if we come across a confusing or damaging project, the recourse to act responsibly to protect both users and our brand is important.

Today’s batch of microblogging clients are hard wired to Twitter’s servers and as a result (or vice versa) they have an effective microblogging monopoly. Twitter, Inc has every reason to be happy with that outcome and is naturally seeking to protect it – how better than to have an officially sanctioned method with which to beat anyone who dare stray from the path by allowing connections to competitors like That’s exactly what they mean with the “when associated with Twitter” language above and by “confusing or damaging” they no doubt mean “confusing or damaging [to Twitter, Inc]”.

The Solution: Distributed Social Networking

Distributed social networking and open standards in general (in the traditional rather than Microsoft sense) are set to change that, but not if the language society uses (and has used for hundreds of years) is granted under an official monopoly to Twitter, Inc – it’s bad enough that they effectively own the @ namespace when there are existing open standards for it. Just imagine if email was a centralised system and everything went through one [unreliable] service – brings a new meaning to “email is down”! Well that’s Twitter’s [now not so] secret strategy: to be the “pulse of the planet” (their words, not mine).

Don’t get me wrong – I think Twitter’s great and will continue to twitter and tweet as @samj so long as it’s the best microblogging platform around – but I don’t want to be forced to use it because it’s the only one there is. Twitter, Inc had ample chance to secure “twitter” as a trademark and so far as I am concerned they have long since missed it (despite securing dubious and likely unenforceable registrations). Now they need to play on a level playing field and focus on being the best service there is.

Update: Before I get falsely accused of brand piracy let me clarify one important point: so far as I am concerned while Twitter can do what they like with their logo (despite continuing to give it away to the entire Internet no strings attached), the words “twitter” and “tweet” are fair game as they have been for the last 700+ years and will be for the next 700. From now on “twitter” for me means “generic microblog” and “tweet” means “microblog update”.

If I had a product interesting enough for Twitter, Inc to send me one of their infamous C&D letters I would waste no time whatsoever in scanning it, posting it here and making fun of them for it. I’m no thief but I am a fervent believer in open standards.

Twitter’s “Tweet” Trademark Torpedoed

Last month Twitter founder Biz Stone announced in a blog post (May The Tweets Be With You) that they “have applied to trademark Tweet because it is clearly attached to Twitter from a brand perspective“. This understandably caused widespread upset as the word “tweet” has been used generically by users for some time as well as in any number of product names by independent software vendors. Here’s some samples from the resulting media storm:

What they failed to mention though was that according to USPTO records (#77715815) not only had they actually applied some months before (on 16 April 2009) but that their application had been refused that very same day (1 July 2009).

According to documents from the Trademark Document Retrieval system, their lawyers (Fenwick & West LLP) were notified of the rejection by email to that day. The USPTO had explained that “marks in prior-filed pending applications may present a bar to registration of applicant’s mark. […] If the marks in the referenced applications register, applicant’s mark may be refused registration under Trademark Act Section 2(d) because of a likelihood of confusion between the two marks“, referencing and attaching not one, not two but three separate trademark applications:

Now I may not be a lawyer (I did play a role in overturning Dell’s “cloud computing” and Psion’s “Netbook” trademarks) but given all three of the marks identified look like proceeding to registration (it only takes one to rain on their parade), it’s my non-expert opinion that Twitter has a snowflake’s chance in hell of securing a monopoly over the word “Tweet”.

That’s too bad for Twitter but it’s great news for the rest of the community as it’s one less tool for locking in Twitter’s rapidly growing microblogging monopoly. People do use the word “tweet” generically (including with non-Twitter services) and if Twitter, Inc. were successful in removing it from the public lexicon then we could all suffer in the long run.

In any case it is neither serious nor safe for one company to become the “pulse of the planet” and that is why I will be following up with a series of posts as to how distributed social networking can be made a reality through open standards (if that stuff is of interest to you then subscribe and/or follow me for updates). I’ve also got some interesting things in the pipeline in relation to standards and trademarks in general so watch this space.

Anyway it just goes to show that with trademarks you need to “use it or lose it”. The “propagation delay” of the media has dropped from months at the outset to near real-time today so companies need to move fast to protect their marks or lose them forever. As for whether the 1 July post was a scramble to protect the mark on receipt of the USPTO’s denial, whether the USPTO was acting in response to it, or whether it was just a coincidence and particularly bad timing I don’t know. I don’t really care either as the result is the same, but I would like to believe that the USPTO is becoming more responsive to the needs of the community (after all, they revoked Dell’s cloud computing trademark in the days following the uproar, despite having already issued a “Notice of Allowance” offering it to them).

Update: It turn out that USPTO most likely acted in response to Twitter’s 10:37am blog post as (after months without action) they conducted an XSearch at 8:30pm and sent the rejection notice at 9:00pm. I’d chalk that up as a FAIL for Twitter and a WIN for the USPTO.

Update: See also: The Inquisitr: No Tweet trademark for Twitter, complete with the hilarious graphic at the top (used without permission but with thanks to the creative genius at The Inquisitr).

Update: See also: CNET News: Not so fast, Twitter: ‘Tweet’ isn’t yours, which is a good, balanced, albeit unsourced article.

NewsFlash: Trend Micro trademarks the Intercloud™

Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of TrendMicro‘s InterCloud Security Service product when it was announced as a beta back on 25 September 2006 (for general availability in 2007):

I hadn’t either until I researched my recent Intercloud post and wrote the Intercloud Wikipedia article (having created the cloud computing Wikipedia article around this time last year). The Intercloud, in case you were wondering, is a global “cloud of clouds” built on top of the Internet, a global “network of networks” – even if nothing else it’s a useful term for those of us working on cloud computing interoperability (see: An open letter to the community regarding “Open Cloud”).

Being the cynical type I thought it prudent to check the US Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) databases and surprise, surprise, Trend Micro have pending trademark application #77018125 on the term “INTERCLOUD” in international classes 9 (hardware), 42 (software) and 45 (services). If your company, like mine, is a provider of cloud computing products and services then now’s the time to sit up and pay attention as this word will almost certainly become part of your every day vocabulary before too long (as is already the case for companies like Cisco)… much to the chagrin of those who consider it, along with cloud computing in general, just another buzzword rather than the life changing paradigm shift it is.

Just like Dell’s misguided attempt to secure a monopoly over the term “cloud computing” which I uncovered last year (see also: InformationWeek: Dell Seeks, May Receive ‘Cloud Computing’ Trademark), this application has proceeded to the Notice of Allowance phase which essentially means that it is theirs for the taking… all they need to do now is file a Statement of Use within the coming month (or ask for another 6 month extension like the one they were granted in January of this year… strange for a product that appears all but abandoned ala the infamous Psion Netbook – see: The Register: Blogger fights Psion’s claim to ‘netbook’ name).

Unless we manage to make enough noise to convince the USPTO to have a change in heart (as was the case following the uproar over Dell’s attempt on “cloud computing” – see: Dell Denied: ‘Cloud Computing’ both desciptive and generic), or convince TrendMicro do the RightThing™ and put it out of its misery (which seems unlikely as Trend Micro, like most vendors, are getting into cloud cloud computing in a big way – see: Trend Micro Bets Company Future on Cloud Computing Offering), they will likely succeed in removing this word from the public lexicon for their own exclusive use.

If, like me, you don’t like that idea either then speak up now or forever hold your peace as unlike patents, trademarks don’t expire so long as they’re in continuous use.

CloudBurst Trademarked?

It’s no secret that “CloudBurst” is one of my least favourite cloud computing buzzwords. Its intended meaning is something like when you run out of room in your own datacenters you can “CloudBurst” into a public service like EC2. Not only is that somewhat the pipedream today (you want an enterprise app to do what?), but it is a significant deviation from the real world meaning of the term which according to Wikipedia is:

A cloudburst is an extreme form of rainfall, sometimes mixed with hail and thunder, which normally lasts no longer than a few minutes but is capable of creating minor flood conditions.

Fortunately it seems I may not have to put up with it for much longer because the guys at Ythos (a “Technology and Business Development Consultancy”) have gone and registered it with the USPTO (Trademark #77736577).

That said, it seems the USPTO have learnt some lessons from last year’s “cloud computing” trademark debacle, citing Dell’s ill-fated trademark in denying Q-Layer^W Sun^W Oracle’s application for NephOS. They should probably deny this one too, but I’m saying that through gritted teeth and would be quite happy to see it removed from the public lexicon.

Update: Interestingly LogMeIn, Inc. got in a scuffle over the trademark a few years back but unfortunately it was “Abandoned after an inter partes decision by the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board.”

Lessons learnt the likely loss of the “netbook” trademark

Reposted from the Save the Netbooks Blog:

There’s a number of things that Psion could have done to avoid losing the “netbook” trademark.

For a start, trademarks relate to a specific class of goods or services. The “netbook” mark #75215401 is just for “laptop computers”, as in the devices themselves. When Psion stop selling the devices (either permanently or by not shipping for 3+ years) then the trademark should self destruct.

Apple’s iBook trademark #75584233 on the other hand covers “computers, computer hardware, computer peripherals and users manuals sold therewith” so they’re good to go for as long as they offer peripherals. That said, in this kb article the definition of “obsolete” is quite clear:

“Obsolete products are those that were discontinued more than seven years ago. Apple has discontinued all hardware service for obsolete products with no exceptions. Service providers cannot order parts for obsolete products.

Aside from some quirks realting to California laws a “Petition for Cancellation” of the iBook trademark on the basis of abandonment could well be successful today.

Had they have held a stock of Netbooks and/or Netbook Pros for (restricted?) sale after manufacturing stopped may have been another way Psion could have avoided abandonment. Indeed not listing the devices as “discontinued” on their web site may have given them 3 years grace (e.g. through at least August 2009). Even an early announcement of a new netBook might have held off the dogs too.

An administrative error (that is, including a ‘Netbook’ rather than a ‘Netbook Pro’ brochure in the 2006 Combined Declararation of Use and Incontestability) led to Dell’s claim of fraud that may well be upheld.

But the ommission that undoubtedly caused the most damage was not acting quickly when others started using the mark. There are many ways to detect such usage – a Google Alert for ‘netbook’ or a Domain Tools alert for domain registrations would have resulted in an email alert within hours of the first [ab]uses and they could have acted quickly to stave off the onslaught.

Of course then the “netbook” industry wouldn’t be what it is today… the devices would have been called something like “webbooks” and none of this ever would have happened.

Conspiracy theories about Intel’s role in the “netbook” craze

The last few days working on Save the Netbooks have been enlightening to say the least. It’s surprising that something as mundane as a moniker for a generic class of laptops can be an outlet for the conspiracy theorists, but Mark “Sumocat” Sumimoto (the “Father of Ink Blogging” – which is interesting in itself) at least has got it in his head that Intel created the “netbook” moniker as “part of a move to undercut the OLPC project’s goal of supplying laptops to children in third-world countries“.

To his credit (and unlike most conspiracy theorists), Sumocat presents detailed (if flawed) arguments along with his claims like the Google Trends data on “netbook” usage. This correlates well with things like the February 2008 Bloomberg article where an Intel marketing drone gushed about their plans for “netbooks” that ran through CEO level, followed immediately by a fairly candid blog post which spoke about netbooks generically as a category rather than an Intel product. It predates, however, their full involvement later in the year through with things like the registration of Remember that Psion Teklogix waited until December before unleashing the hounds.

The theory culminates in a post entitled “How to Kill a Trademark” which focuses on prior use of the term “netbook” and suggests that if you “wield enough power [you] can bypass trademark protection”, as per Intel’s “deliberate campaign to genericize another entity’s trademarked name”. The fatal flaw with this theory is that a trademark requires continuous use and this one had been abandoned, both instantaneously and indefinitely by way of the End-of-Life notice (meaning “vendor will no longer be marketing, selling, or promoting a particular product”) and for longer than the 3 year limit on non-use.

Were the trademark still in use and had they acted in a reasonable period then it is very likely that Intel (and pretty much everyone else using the term) would have found themselves in a good deal of trouble. Even the smallest firm with a valid, in-use trademark could have enforced this given the probability of success (lawyers will take on this sort of a fight if there’s a virtually guaranteed payout at the end). However had Psion made a stink earlier in the year they likely would have been attacked by someone like Dell on the basis of abandonment then rather than now. There are similarities here with the Cisco/Apple settlement over the iPhone trademark.

Note that the “reasonable period” is perhaps open to debate but what is sure is that it’s shorter now in the days of the Internet than it was when the propagation rate of the mediums were slower (print, then radio, then television, now Internet). In the age of Twitter the entire lifecycle of a product can take place in the time it takes to even register a trademark and there are many things that can be done to modernise the rickety old trademark system. We’re doing our bit in that we’re working on surfacing “submarine” trademarks but this is just the beginning.

At the end of all this though, it simply doesn’t matter. Intel may have thought they were clever by getting behind these new devices (and only they know their real motives with respect to OLPC), but to assume they could link entangle “netbook” with “atom” (so to speak) was perhaps a bit ambitious, if not downright dangerous. The same applies to Microsoft who tried valiantly to keep the netbooks in the UMPC/ULCPC box with arbitrary restrictions on things like screen size at a measly and arbitrary 10 inches.

I’ve been saying the whole time that “netbooks” are “Internet Notebooks”. Given one of the key features for Internet productivity is screen size I am not at all surprised then to see the availability of full size netbooks out to 13.4″ already, and manufacturers like Acer (just yesterday) pulling out of the sub-10″ marketplace altogether. I’m also not surprised to see alternatives processors (most notably ARM based units like the Freescale) gearing up to take over the lion’s share of sales by being cheaper and more energy efficient.

Just as Microsoft introduced the XMLHTTPRequest object which ultimately led to a thriving marketplace of web based cloud computing applications (e.g. Google Apps), Intel has unleashed a monster that could well devour a large part of its revenue. It will be almost impossible for the WinTel alliance to match the new breed of competitors (at least in their current form of Windows 7 Starter on Intel Atom) so they’ll want to start thinking outside the box (like Windows Mobile 8 on XScale, except that they already sold it to focus on x86). Meanwhile AMD sees no future for [itself in] netbooks so the new kids on the block like Ubuntu Linux on Freescale currently have nothing to fear from the old school, let alone the infamous trademark.

Blogger fights Psion’s right to ‘netbook’ name

The Register: Blogger fights Psion’s right to ‘netbook’ name
‘Considerable chutzpah’

By Gavin Clarke in San Francisco

Posted in PCs & Chips, 19th February 2009 01:44 GMT

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,, 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 complemented 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.


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. ®

Psion Teklogix may lose Netbook trademark

Psion Teklogix, who own international trademarks on the term “netbook” relating to a product that was discontinued in 2003, had recently sent cease and desist letters to “literally hundreds” of recipients, including netbook enthusiast sites. The Save the Netbooks campaign was launched by an Australian firm “to fight the impending trademark threat” and has since declared victory and retired after only 48 hours. Having already had some success in their first mission to reverse the AdWords ban, they were in the process of filing a petition to cancel with USPTO when they discovered they had been beaten to it by none other than Dell Computer (who we discussed last year on the other side of a similar scandal relating to the “cloud computing” trademark). In the petition, in addition to abandonment and genericness Dell also alleged fraud, claiming that a Sr Product Manager at Psion Teklogix had given a false declaration of use under penalty of purgery back in 2006. In any case it is now very likely that the term “netbook” will be unencumbered and free for all to use (for better or worse).