Wednesday, September 1, 1999

Join the crusade to rename the Device Formerly Known as PalmPilot


By Alan Macy

The Palm computing device thing is having an identity crisis. Due to international trademark disputes and high-level committee decisions, the device we all knew simply as the "PalmPilot" is now essentially nameless. In fact, PalmPower editor-in-chief David Gewirtz wrote an editorial about that in the March issue of PalmPower, entitled Palmistry and Numerology: understanding branding. It's available at

3Com, the makers of the device, asks that we refer to it as the "Palm Connected Organizer." That title is way too long, and many users just call it the "Palm." But as you'll see, that's even worse! The device "formerly known as PalmPilot" needs your help. That's why you should join Responsive Software's Crusade to find it a new name!

The sad history

The original Pilot was released in 1996, followed a year later by the PalmPilot. "PalmPilot" was a great name: easy to say, not too long, nice techie sound. Best of all, when you said something like "I really love my PalmPilot," everyone knew what you meant.

It was around this time that a stuffy lawyer from the Pilot Pen Corporation tapped 3Com on the shoulder, and said, "Pardon us, so sorry to bother you, but we own the trademark on the word 'Pilot,' and you'll have to call your product something else."

Now, normally, in trademark law, two products may have the same name if they are used in two very different, non-competing markets. For example, you wouldn't be allowed to sell a car or a motorcycle called "The Mustang," but if you wanted to market a garden hose with that name, you'd be OK.

"But Hey!" you might say, "Pilot Pen makes pens, and the PalmPilot is a small computer. What's the problem?" Well, unfortunately for 3Com, the PalmPilot is a computer on which you write with a pen-like stylus, and (here's the clincher), the Pilot Pen Corporation makes styluses as well as pens. As a result, a judge decided that customers might confuse the two brands, and on April 3, 1998, said to 3Com, "I realize that this is a major bummer for you folks, but you've got to find a new name."