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Palm pours cold water on fan-site row

Handheld maker hopes to cool off arguments over its trademark enforcement policies, but doesn't look like it will change its stance
Written by Matthew Broersma, Contributor

Palm Computing on Friday issued a formal statement attempting to defuse the controversy around the way it deals with hobbyist Web sites that use the Palm trademark, but the statement is likely to disappoint Webmasters who had hoped that Palm would opt for a more relaxed approach.

Some Web site owners had seen signs that Palm would allow hobbyist sites -- an important source of grassroots support for the company -- to continue using "Palm" in their Web addresses. Publicly at least, however, Palm is showing no signs of changing its policy of pressing sites to change their addresses to "PalmOS" or a generic term like "handheld" or "PDA". "Palm hopes to help the Web sites in question become compliant with trademarks in order to promote those sites on its own Web site," the company said in its statement.

For several years Palm has been pressing commercial Web sites not to use "Palm" in their Web addresses, and in recent weeks has started applying the same policy to hobbyist sites like PalmGuru.com, PalmStation.com and PalmGoddess.com (now PocketGoddess.com). Palm says this is necessary to maintain control of its trademark, but also explains that certain site names could lead to confusion.

"Palm has a policy of not directly promoting Web sites that include 'Palm' in their name in a way that could confuse consumers or lead them to believe that the sites are owned or operated by Palm," the company said.

Many Webmasters found Palm's legal tactics heavy-handed, treating them like potential criminals rather than supporters. Palm, however, points out that it has not actually sued any hobbyist sites. "Palm has never taken legal action against such sites, but has asked for voluntary compliance with Palm's trademark guidelines," the company said. "Palm is approaching these sites with the spirit of collaboration and open discussion."

Jim McCarthy, who is changing his site name from PalmGuru to PocketAnywhere, didn't see it that way. "It was not a friendly approach to businesses or hobbyists that have volunteered countless hours of their own time to promote, sell and evangelise the Palm OS platform," he said.

Following the public controversy, Palm told the founder of PalmStation that the rules would be liberalised, allowing sites to keep using "Palm" in their URL under licence, but there is little sign of a changed attitude in Palm's statement.

However, the company's position does seem to leave some room for interpretation. For example, Palm says it wants sites to change their URLs "in order to promote those sites on [Palm's] Web site." That could be taken to mean that if sites don't choose to make the change, they simply won't be promoted by Palm.

Palm and PalmOS-powered handheld devices lead the market for PDAs (personal digital assistants).

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