Palm tries to protect its brand name online

Summary:The handheld maker demands that fan sites with "Palm" in their domain name change the reference to "Palm OS," but the fan sites decide to go one step further.

What Palm hoped would be a way to clarify its marketing and protect its brand name may have backfired.

The company recently has been sending letters to a number of handheld enthusiast sites with "Palm" in their domain name, seeking to get the sites to change the reference to "Palm OS" by offering a free license to use that name instead.

However, some of those sites are changing their names to ones that avoid Palm entirely. Palmguru.com is changing its name to PocketAnywhere.com. Palmgoddess.com is now Pocketgoddess.com. And Palminfocenter's editor in chief said he is mulling over his options.

Even worse for Palm, some of the sites are changing their focus as well.

"My new site design is around Pocket PC," said Palmguru and soon-to-be PocketAnywhere operator Jim McCarthy. "Palm is secondary at this point."

McCarthy said the letter was not the only reason for the content change, just the final straw.

While Palm has sought to get enthusiast sites to change their names, Microsoft has continued to focus on recruiting Palm's enthusiasts and developers to devices that use its rival Pocket PC operating system.

Those efforts are starting to bear fruit. For example, Vindigo, which makes electronic guides to cities and rose to popularity on the Palm, is close to releasing a Pocket PC version of its software.

"We must insist"
A Palm representative said Wednesday that the recent letters were designed to be nonthreatening and offered a free license to use Palm OS as part of a domain name. The representative also noted that, in its letters, Palm offered to promote on its Web page the sites that changed their names. One of the company's goals was to help make clear that these fan sites are not being run by Palm itself, the representative said.

Palm wrote a letter to McCarthy on Aug. 1 that was seen by CNET News.com and verified by Palm.

"Palm Inc. is proud to have a positive and productive relationship with Web sites promoting the Palm OS," a Palm lawyer wrote to McCarthy. "We do not in any way want this relationship to deteriorate."

The letter then grew sharper. "However, we must insist that you work with us to re-brand your Web site in a manner that does not infringe Palm's trademark rights."

Palm is still open to talking to those who received letters, the Palm representative said, adding that there is even the possibility of licensing the Palm name itself.

"We hope that people aren't making hasty decisions based on a letter because we did invite them to discuss alternatives," the representative said. "The door is still open."

Even those who are sticking by Palm are unhappy about the pressure from the handheld giant. Ryan Kairer, Palminfocenter's editor in chief, said Palm first contacted him in November about changing the name and initially did not offer the option of using Palm OS.

Kairer said he has not made up his mind yet what to do with his site. He is leaning toward changing the name to something that includes Palm OS but could opt for something generic, he said. Either way, Kairer added, he is disappointed by Palm's actions.

"We support Palm so much and yet they are hassling us," he said.

Poor timing?
McCarthy said the letter did not sound all that friendly to him, particularly the last line, which asked him to respond to Palm within two weeks. As a result, McCarthy said he decided it would be best to use a name that avoids Palm altogether.

"I decided it would be best for me to change my name because I never wanted this issue to rise up again," McCarthy said.

Alex Slawsby, an analyst at IDC, said he understands that Palm is looking to promote the broader community of handhelds that use its operating system, such as Handspring and Sony models. But Slawsby said that now might not be the right time to go after some of its strongest backers.

"It needs, now more than ever, the support of these folks," Slawsby said, noting that the competition from Microsoft and others is growing. "Palm obviously has work to do. This is not the time to be casting off one's supporters, for whatever reason."

Another person hit with the letter was Jen Edwards, a longtime Palm enthusiast who launched Palmgoddess.com on Aug. 22 and promptly heard from Palm.

"I launched it on a Wednesday. And Thursday when I came back from lunch (I had) that letter," she said. Edwards added that she decided to change the name rather than get embroiled in a legal squabble.

Edwards had boasted on the site that Palmgoddess offers "98 percent Palm OS and 100 percent fun." But she said the percentage might be changing and noted that one of the most recent features on the site was a review of the new version of Pocket PC.

Palm "will always be my majority of my coverage," Edwards said, but "it probably won't be 98 percent."

This is not the first domain name issue for Palm. Last year, Palm lawyers demanded a British handheld owner turn over the Mypalm.com domain name. The two parties eventually reached a deal in which he got to keep his Mypalm.com e-mail address, while traffic to that Web site would be redirected to Palm's site.

The real loser in the naming flap, McCarthy said, will be Palm owners who could easily find related Web sites just by typing Palm and various nouns.

"It was really easy for people to find Palm support," McCarthy said.

Topics: Hewlett-Packard, Operating Systems

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