AT&T's WorldNet Service may continue to tell subscribers, "You Have Mail," even though America Online (AOL) thinks that phrase and two other commonly used Internet terms are proprietary.
A federal district court judge in Virginia rejected AOL's request for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction barring AT&T's Internet service from using that phrase to tell subscribers they have e-mail. The judge also allowed that WorldNet may, at least for now, use the terms "Buddy List" and "IM," which refer to the list users can set up to show when friends are online and "instant message," respectively.
AOL filed suit against AT&T on December 22, contending that "You Have Mail," "Buddy List" and "IM" are proprietary AOL terms. During a December 24 hearing that resulted in the ruling, AT&T attorneys argued those phrases are probably generic, AT&T said in a statement earlier this week.
AT&T is arguing that if AOL succeeds in establishing those Internet terms are proprietary the case could have far-reaching negative effects. AOL, of course, sees things quite differently.
"From our perspective, AT&T is trying to free ride on a term that is historically associated with AOL," AOL spokeswoman Tricia Primrose said on Monday, referring to "You Have Mail" and "You've Got Mail."
AOL believes it has "common law rights" to trademarks on those phrases and is also pursuing having legal trademark rights to both. AOL already has a federal trademark for "Buddy List," she said.
AOL has no intention of dropping the lawsuit because "we feel very strongly about our trademarks," Primrose said.