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Wednesday, 5 June, 2002, 10:38 GMT 11:38 UK
Sony forced to share Walkman
Walkman publicity
It's the ultimate accolade for any product: when it becomes so familiar that everyone forgets it was ever a brand.

Hoover, Tippex, Portakabin and Spam (the edible kind) are among the select few that have achieved this iconic status.

Now, they have officially been joined by Walkman, Sony's ubiquitous personal audio brand.

Austria's top court has ruled that the world's biggest electronics firm no longer has exclusive rights to the Walkman name, since the word has become too general in application to be owned by one firm.

Dictionary definition

Sony decided to sue Time Tron Corp, an Austrian wholesaler, in 1994 after it also described portable cassette players made by rival firms as Walkmans in a sales catalogue.

Walkman publicity
The Walkman has become something of an icon
But the court ruled that Walkman had become a common noun for portable stereos, pointing out that one German dictionary defined the word without reference to Sony.

Sony, which has a worldwide trademark on the Walkman name, vowed to continue pursuing legal means to protect its rights.

"This is our own property and not a common noun to be used by anybody," a spokeswoman said.

"This judgment is not satisfactory for us at all."

Name games

According to Sony, its rights to the name are not being challenged in any other jurisdiction.

But emboldened by the Austrian example, other cases could conceivably be lodged.

Global brand names have occasionally proved difficult to guard, especially as multinationals have stretched their businesses into markets such as East Asia and the former Soviet Union, where intellectual property law is less developed.

Most of the main problems have been with counterfeiters, however, rather than rivals legitimately wishing to exploit a trade name.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Tom Blackett, Interbrand
"This is what tends to happen if you do allow a third party use your brand name in a purely descriptive way."
See also:

25 Jan 02 | Business
07 Sep 01 | UK
09 Jul 01 | dot life
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