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Priceline.com Sued for Trademark Infringement

Priceline.com Thursday became the latest major dot-com to face accusations of hijacking intellectual property.

Pannell-Christ Inc., an Indiana-based provider of consulting and training services, sued the high-profile firm that provides "name your own price" services for groceries and airline tickets. According to the lawsuit filed in federal court, Pannell-Christ is disputing Priceline's use of the phrases "Name Your Price" and "Name Your Own Price."

Pannell-Christ maintains it used the "Name Your Price!" trademark as far back as five years ago. However, the company had not filed for a trademark on the phrase until several months after priceline.com had begun using the slogan in 1998. The U.S. Trademark Office granted Pannell-Christ federal registration of the mark on February 1, 2000.

Pannell-Christ claims it is often confused with priceline.com, which hurts the identity of its business. The firm says that, due to priceline.com's high-profile nature, some people believe it is they that have stolen the trademark.

Priceline.com has patented an Internet pricing system that allows consumers to name the prices they are willing to pay for a variety of goods and services. Priceline.com takes these offers and presents them to sellers who can accept or reject the prices determined by the buyers. Its consumers often perceive they are getting a great deal.

Pannell-Christ contends its business model couldn't be more different from priceline.com's -- the small firm makes its money by helping firms justify the sale of high-end products to sell their products at a higher price, justified because of the extra value that quality and service bring to these products.

Pannell-Christ also said records at the U.S. Trademark Office disclosed that Priceline.com had tried four times to register the phrases, "Name Your Price" and "Name Your Own Price," but was unsuccessful.

Brian Ek, vice president of communications for priceline.com, told InternetNews Pannell-Christ's claims are essentially baseless.

"The long and short of it is that the slogans are not likely to be confused [in court]," Ek said. "Pannell Christ uses the phrases in motivational speaking. We conducted a trademark search in 1998 and no restrictions or regulations were found on the phrases.

Ek suggested the claim would not hold up in court.

"They finally decided to file for a trademark more than three years after using the 'Name Your Own Price' slogans. And one of their prinicpals is a lawyer."

Ek was referring to President David Christ, a non-practicing attorney who is also chairman of the Indiana Bar Association's section on intellectual property law.

Pannell-Christ said it has tried to settle with Priceline, but the two were still far from resolving the issue.

In the lawsuit, Pannell-Christ is seeking damages, attorney fees, several injunctions against priceline.com and a royalty based on the firm's revenues.

Priceline.com has not yet filed a formal response to the lawsuit.

Maureen Dorney, an attorney and expert on intellectual property and trademark disputes for Gray, Cary, Ware & Freidenrich, said the "Name Your Price" slogan at the center of the storm may not be considered a phrase that may not be trademarked, such as "aspirin," or "escalator," both of which are now used as generic terms for the objects they represent.

"I'd expect Priceline would make the argument that the two firms goods and services are entirely different," Dorney said. "It's also possible that the firms are granted multiple rights for the trademarked terms."

Also Thursday, Juno Online Services Inc. filed suit in a Delaware federal court seeking unspecified damages and an injunction against NetZero Inc. and