IBM in legal hot water over e-commerce name

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 reports published yesterday.

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

E Technologies, an IT consultancy 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. 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 August 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 $US9 million in exchange for the rights to the logo -- in a Dutch court, the report said.

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 today, 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 story said.

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