Psion and the netBook Trademark

As an ex-Psion employee I was disappointed and a little saddened to learn of Psion’s spurious trademark claim to the word netbook. Psion were once a great technology company practically inventing the PDA , creating some classic hardware designs and creating the operating system that powers a huge proporation of today’s smartphones: Symbian.

Psion launched the Psion netBook (also badged a Series 7) in 1999. The netBook was a sub-notebook running Psion’s EPOC operating system and discontinued in 2003.

I remember playing with a pre-production netBook giving my feedback as to how I felt the EPOC OS should be adapted to work on the bigger screen and thinking we had a very cool device here. Psion used external design consultants Therefore for their hardware design, and the netBook was another triumph of industrial design.

As with the Series 3 and 5 PDAs that preceded it the netBook had a clever hinge that made the device seem to grow as you opened it revealing a keyboard that seemed larger than it should be. The hinge itself was wrapped in leather so it felt like carrying a leather book or Filofax. As well as an almost full size keyboard the netBook had a touch screen and solid state internals. Writing this now I realise that the Psion netBook really was ahead of it’s time.

A few years ago I bumped into an old colleague who showed me a netBook running Linux pre-dating the Eee PC and co. by some years. Sadly Psion didn’t release this version in yet another moment of corporate short-sightedness and cowardice.

Psion chickened out of the two hottest personal technology markets despite having a massive head start on the competition. I was fortunate to see the designs and concepts for a range of smartphones they were working on, but ultimately didn’t develop.

Then of course Psion pulled out of the PDA market saying they couldn’t beat Palm.

Psion are now a pale imitation of the once great innovators they were; based in Canada Psion Teklogix now produce rugged industrial handheld computers. So their decision to claim the netbook trademark and to threaten websites, resellers and IT manufacturers with legal action felt like the last dieing actions of once great brand.

Shame on you Psion.

But well done Dell for challenging this ridiculous claim; it looks like game over for Psion before they’ve even started.

Update: Dell have accused Psion of “fraudulently” claiming the trademark netbook was still in use.

Note: I was also amazed to see that design of the Psion Teklogix site is largely the same as the one I left behind when I left Psion in 2000 and it was out of date then.