You can say 'netbook' now, the Supremes will look at patents, Tetris turns 25

What's Now | What's Next main bannerUsually when a company coins a term or a phrase, or attempts to, it checks around to see whether someone else has thought of it first. But in the case of "netbook," it seemed to be a term that entered the popular vocabulary just before marketers got a hold of it. Or so we thought. But this story turns out all for the better, as we can all say "netbook" now with confidence.

Psion tells Intel it can use "netbook"

Afternoon of Monday, June 1 · Perhaps you've noticed how Microsoft had been gingerly avoiding the use of the term "netbook," and other manufacturers followed suit, including Sony. The reason is that Psion Teklogix, a long-time components producer, had a trademark on the term, and it had been using it for a line of notebook computers up until 2003. Early in the year, after Psion made a case about Intel's use of the term (which, you have to admit, sounds a lot better than "MID" or "UMPC"), Intel fought back the way Intel's been known to do, claiming that Psion's claim to the trademark had passed since it had been out of use for six years.

Things were starting to get nasty, as we began to hear questions about whether anyone had ever heard of a Psion Netbook (capital "N") in the first place. Well, yesterday afternoon, the companies apparently reached a decision that it's just not the right economy these days to be conducting a street brawl over what's now a pretty common term. Psion will withdraw its trademark registrations for the word, it announced (Dell had some as well, which were withdrawn a few months ago), and it will hold harmless any and all third parties from ever having said the word.

Now, you begin to wonder whether "Starter Edition" is just the right phrase for Microsoft to be using for its netbook SKU of Windows 7.

Supreme Court agrees to look at business-method patents

Morning of Monday, June 1 · For the first time in over a quarter-century, the Supreme Court will examine standards for what business methods may be patented. An appeals court has previously ruled that only methods that involve actual machines or physical transformations can be patented -- a tightening of the previous "new, useful and not obvious" definition so disliked by many software firms. The New York Times and Los Angeles Times and Financial Times all have good summaries. (More on this development in What's Next.)

Prime View buys E Ink (by the barrel)

Morning of Monday, June 1 · The digital-ink tech that underlies the Kindle and the Sony reader will now be the property of the Taiwanese OEM that makes the displays. Prime View International has announced that it will buy the Massachusetts-based E Ink Corporation, which which it has partnered over the years, for $215 million.

The acquisition makes Prime View the muscle in the nascent e-book market by most accounts; Reuters' coverage stated boldly that "The future of e-book readers, at least most of them on the market today, now lies with" the firm. GigaOm's looked at the market numbers, though, and cautions that that's not necessarily a good thing, or a good sign for the venture firms backing the development of various e-book readers.

Tetris turns 25, which makes you... old

June 1984 · A quarter-century ago this week, Alexey Pajitnov stayed up late and turned the well-known Pentamino Puzzle into a computer game for Electronika, a Russian computer system. The rest is brain-wave-altering history, with over 125 million copies sold (and untold millions more downloaded, in original and clone versions). The San Francisco Chronicle takes a look back.

The cultural impact is being celebrated in, among other things, dishware and tattoos and fanciful photography. And what's the legendary Alexey doing these days? Well...

Waiting on a Pre

Monday morning, too early · Tinycomb has the first known photos of a fellow allegedly waiting on line for a Palm Pre, due Saturday. The site didn't identify the guy or even the location of the store, but it's not at all out of the realm of possibility; over the weekend, Craigslist was already aflower with people offering to sit on line, people claiming they had Pre access such that they could avoid the line, and the usual incoherent bleating about wanting stuff cheap, no questions asked. On behalf of the rest of the world, *headdesk* *headdesk* *headdesk*.

Tuesday's tech headlines

Wired

· The CIA's using tiny radio-frequency chips to guide killer drones to Taliban targets in Afghanistan. Impressive tech, but getting the chips near the right people can be very dangerous work, as the article details.

· Billion-year data storage? It's theoretically possible, according to new carbon nanotube research at Berkeley. Information density could be as high as 10^12┬ábits per square inch -- equivalent, the article says, to nearly 25 DVDs in the space of a postage stamp. The story is based on an article previously appearing in ScienceNOW.

· Security consultants take note: In the wake of the CardSystems Solutions breach back in 2004, their auditor, Savvis, is getting sued because they said that the company was CISP-compliant when, as the hackers proved, they weren't. (All the security folk in the house who have been "asked" to rubber-stamp compliance by a client or a boss, say AAAA!)

The Wall Street Journal

· The Anita Borg Institute points out that persons of African, Hispanic, or Native American heritage are remarkably underrepresented at tech companies. Persons of color accounted for just 6.8% of tech staffers at the seven large Silicon Valley companies surveyed. The study is available as a PDF.

· (subscription required) EMC and netApp are going to fight over who'll acquire Data Domain. EMC says it's ready to pay around $2 billion, or $30 per share, from the de-duplication specialist. netApp already announced plans last month to pay $1.5 billion (or $25 per share) for the firm. Cue hijinks.

· Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg recap their recent All Things D conference.

The New York Times

· Stephanie Clifford has a fine article on how older folk are using social networking. Are you ready for your grandmother to see what's on your Facebook page?

· Seth Schiesel covers the latest version of The Sims, launching today. It's less a review than a meditation on what we're really doing when we create our individual characters, but not a bad read for all that.

PC World

· Matt Peckham, on the other hand, does review The Sims 3 itself. He liked it so much we're not quite sure how he managed to stop playing enough to review it: "Want the year's most compulsively playable, demographically far-flung PC game? You've found it." Come to think of it, we're not sure how he managed to quit customizing his Sim long enough to play -- his description of "traits" and of the insane level of configuration granularity would be daunting if we weren't ourselves frantic to get started.

· The PCW staff has clearly been logging too many flight miles, as they have banded together to review some of the weirder tech products one sees in the Skymall catalog. In case you'd ever wondered about the USB Roll Up Drum Kit, here's your sign.

WHAT'S NEXT? Clearing the patent-guideline fog...

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