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Sun lightens up on Java trademark

Most businesses think a trademark means never having to say you're sorry. Not Sun.

Most businesses think that protecting a trademark means never having to say you're sorry. But Sun Microsystems is too big a company for that.

Sun has been keeping its team of lawyers busy lately sending warning letters to companies that may be playing fast and loose with its proprietary names, principally Java. The company wants to prevent any Java development tools companies from riding on Java's coattails, although one published report said that even companies that sell coffee have been contacted by Sun.

Now, the company is admitting that its lawyers got a little over-zealous in at least one case. Alan Baratz, president of Sun's JavaSoft subsidiary, stepped in with a public apology posted to the company's Web site.

Specifically, Baratz apologized to Javanco, a computer hardware and software dealer, conceding that "it should have been clear" that Javanco's name was not a play on Java. "Let us just apologize to Javanco here and now," Baratz wrote. "It was a mistake on our part."

According to Javanco president Javan Keith, the company is named after himself and has been operating under that name since the early 1980s.

Keith says he wasn't worried anyway. His lawyer had already responded to the initial letter from Sun's legal department telling them to "forget it."

But that doesn't mean that Sun intends to rein in its trademark hawks. In his open letter, Baratz goes on to defend Sun's insistence on preserving the Java trademark, claiming it to be "in the interest of the community at large."