Netbooks are hot. Those small, very portable mini-notebook computers are all the rage. Items like the terrific little Eee PCs have put computer manufacturer Asus on the map. Dell ( DELL), Lenovo, Hewlett-Packard ( HPQ) and others are hot on Asus' trail with their own versions. Even Apple ( AAPL) is reportedly working on a netbook of its own design. But, as it turns out, the actual term "netbook" may belong to someone, and that outfit is not too happy with others using it. The first "netbook" was made by a British firm called Psion. That company also made some of the first (and best) PDAs on the planet. Psion registered the trademark "netbook" in many locales, including U.S. Trademark 75,215,401 (applied for on Dec. 18, 1996, and registered on Nov. 21, 2000) as well as European Union Community Trade Mark 000428250. Psion used these trademarks for Psion "netBook" products, which were discontinued in November 2003. Psion also produced a "NETBOOK PRO" beginning in October 2003. That product is currently listed as "discontinued" on Psion Teklogix's Web site. During that time, Psion split into two companies: The hardware division would be called Psion Teklogix, and the software/operating system company would be called Symbian, now owned by Nokia ( NOK). Intel ( INTC) began using netbook in March 2008 as a generic term to describe "small laptops that are designed for wireless communication and access to the Internet, believing it was "not offering a branded line of computers here" and "see no naming conflict."
In response to the growing use of this term, on Dec. 28, 2008, Psion Teklogix sent cease-and-desist letters last December to various computer manufacturers as well as a number of tech-enthusiast Web sites demanding they stop using the term "netbook." A group called "Save the Netbooks" has started a grass-roots campaign to do just that -- save the netbook name. They are particularly upset with the Google ( GOOG) AdWorks ban of the term. In addition, Dell has filed a "petition for cancellation" of Psion's U.S. trademark. And, this year, Psion sued Intel, and Intel has sued Psion. That's where we stand right now. Some trademark experts believe that Intel's petition will be upheld, in which case Psion's trademarks will be "vulnerable to cancellation across the globe." Until that time, what should we name these devices? Should they be called "micro-books," "teeny-weenies" or maybe Mega-PDAs? Let me know what do you think?