IBM sued over the "e" in e-business

IBM may face a startup called E Technologies Associates in French and Dutch courts over the use of its 'e-business' logo, which the two-person company claims is in violation of a trademark it registered before IBM did. The logo in question is the lower-case 'e' encircled much in the same way as the @ sign. E Technologies, an IT consulting firm with offices in Paris and New York, says it owns the little 'e', having registered it two months before IBM did in those regions.

IBM may face a startup called E Technologies Associates in French and Dutch courts over the use of its "e-business" logo, which the two-person company claims is in violation of a trademark it registered before IBM did, according to published reports.

Officials at IBM in the Netherlands and France had not heard about the proposed lawsuit and declined to comment on the claim that the logo may have been registered by E Technologies Associates prior to IBM's use of it.

"So far, we haven't heard of the case," said an IBM spokesman in Paris. A spokesman at IBM Netherlands reacted in a similar manner.

The logo in question is the lower-case "e" encircled much in the same way as the @ sign, according to a story in today's Wall Street Journal. IBM uses it to promote its "e-business" suite of electronic commerce software products and services.

E Technologies, an IT consulting firm with offices in Paris and New York, says that it owns the little "e", having registered it two months before IBM did in these regions, according to the report in today's Journal. E Technologies said it began using the trademark in April 1997 and applied for registration on June 10 of the same year in the US, and subsequently in several European countries.

Meanwhile, E Technologies says that IBM did not file for a trademark registration of the symbol in the US until Aug. 21, 1997. Because IBM's registration came after that of E Technologies, the small company claims it has a right to the trademark, according to the WSJ report. Now, E Technologies is seeking a permanent injunction barring IBM from using the logo -- or possibly financial compensation from IBM of up to US$9 million in exchange for the rights to the logo -- in a Dutch court, according to the Journal.

Representatives at E Technologies in Paris could not be reached for comment.

IBM, on the other hand, says it acquired prior rights to the trademark before registering it. "We have prior rights in all relevant classes in all countries, and their claim is without merit," John Bukovinsky, an IBM spokesman, told the Journal.

IBM has reacted to the E Technologies case in the Amsterdam court, which is scheduled for a hearing tomorrow, by filing a case against the startup in a French court, the report said. Big Blue was reportedly successful in obtaining a temporary injunction against E Technologies that bars it from using the logo in France.

E Technologies says that it will countersue in France, while IBM is threatening the same in the Netherlands, the WSJ story said.

The news comes hot on the heels of a similar case settled out of court yesterday between Microsoft Corp. and a defunct U.S. Internet service provider (ISP) in the Chicago area called SyNet Inc. Yesterday, Microsoft agreed to pay $5 million to bankrupt SyNet founder, Dhiren Rana, in order to stop his case regarding the Internet Explorer name from going to court.

Microsoft has also recently settled with 3Com over the use of the Palm PC name, which 3Com claimed was too close to its popular PalmPilot brand.

Trademark disputes are rapidly becoming commonplace in the high-tech industry, as companies race to protect names they feel set them apart from the masses. Equally prevalent, are small companies seeking financial compensation from large corporations, say some observers.

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