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IBM, start-up both claim "e"

Big Blue reportedly faces a court battle with a tiny, two-person consulting company over the right to use the "e" trademark.

    IBM faces a court battle with a tiny, two-person consulting company over the right to use the "e" mark, shaped much like the "@" used in email addresses.

    At issue are conflicting claims as to who owns the "e" trademark in various products and services that IBM is marketing under its "e-business" umbrella, which stands for electronic business.

    "We think the case is without merit," said Tara Sexton, spokesperson for the Armonk, New York-based IBM. IBM executives claim the company has prior rights to the logo regardless of when the trademark registration was filed.

    E Technologies Associates, a consulting company based in New York and Paris, says it has been using the "e" trademark since April 1997 and applied for registration on June 10, 1997 in the United States and subsequently in European countries.

    IBM filed its own U.S. trademark application on August 21, 1997--two months before it launched its ad campaign, company spokespeople confirmed. Because it was well after E Technologies' application the small company claims it has priority and is seeking a permanent injunction preventing IBM from using the logo.

    IBM has a lot riding on the outcome of the case. The "e" trademark is the marketing base of the firm's entire product line. The symbol is meant to promote Big Blue as a company not stuck in the mainframe age but capable of handling the new age of electronic business.

    IBM is not the only big company facing such trademark infringements. Microsoft yesterday paid $5 million to settle a dispute over the use of the Internet Explorer name, which is also Microsoft's name for its popular Web browser.

    Microsoft also ran into trouble with 3Com recently for using the name Palm PC which 3Com claimed was far too similar to it's PalmPilot brand. That case too was settled.

    And German software giant SAP quietly changed the acronym for its new data warehouse, the Business Information Warehouse, from BIW to simply BW because another company already had rights to the initials BIW.

    Reuters contributed to this story.