Palm backs off fan sites

An unpopular policy of forcing Palm fan sites to change their domain names looks to be ending

Palm Computing appears to be easing the pressure in its crusade to keep hobbyists' Web sites from using its trademarked name.

The company has offered to relax its rules for Palm fan sites, allowing them to use the Palm name in their Web addresses, following legal requests that had alienated many Palm supporters, according the Webmaster of one Palm hobbyist site.

At the heart of Palm's policy is trademark law, which requires companies to take reasonable measures to protect their trademarks. If a company allows its marks to be used indiscriminately, it can lose the right to the trademarks.

While Palm has declined offers to comment on the issue, there are signs that the company is looking to take that risk rather than continue to alienate its supporters. Hal Schechner, Webmaster of Palmstation.com, told ZDNet UK that Palm has offered to give him a free licence to continue to use the name.

"For community-based and fan-based sites like mine, they're going to be much more relaxed," Schechner said. "There will still be stipulations, though, about using [the name] correctly."

Schechner was initially approached by Palm's lawyers about three weeks ago, but they have not pursued their claim on the domain name.

Palm has a long-running policy of persuading commercial sites that use Palm in their URL to change their name or, in some cases, to purchase a formal licence. In recent weeks, however, the company has turned its attention to hobbyist sites like PalmGuru.com, PalmStation.com and PalmLoyal.com. Palm's lawyers offered such sites the choice of either licensing the PalmOS name or changing their site address entirely.

These moves are within Palm's trademark rights, but were widely seen as heavy-handed, considering that hobbyist sites are an important source of grassroots support for the Palm OS platform. Some sites, such as PalmGuru, were so alienated that they switched allegiance to Palm's main competitor, Microsoft's Pocket PC.

The name "Pocket PC" does not have the same trademark troubles, since it isn't trademarked by Microsoft.

There are previous cases of companies using their discretion in protecting trademarks. For example, in 1998, the US's Prema Toy Company dropped an action against a 12-year-old boy who used the "pokey.org" domain name after receiving bad press. Pokey is the trademarked name of a 1950s animated television character, and also happened to be the boy's nickname.

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