What’s in a name? Apple fights for rights to iPad name


What’s in a name? Apple fights for rights to iPad name

With the global roll-out of its much anticipated iPad, Apple has had plenty to deal with, particularly with the branding and trademark issues that have arisen since it announced the launch of the new must-have gadget worldwide.

Just days after Apple announced the launch of the iPad, Fujitsu claimed that it owned the US rights to the name iPad as it had developed a handheld stock monitoring computing device used in supermarkets in 2003 with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and VoIP support with the name.

On 17 March, after months of legal arguments between Apple and Fujitsu, the legal right to the name has now been transferred from Fujitsu to Apple.

However, Apple cannot yet breathe a sigh of relief; new claimants to the iPad throne have now arisen. A South Korean company, Transform Tecnologia de Ponta, has drawn attention to its own I-PAD, a portable defibrillator used in Brazilian hospitals, claiming it owns the trademark in Brazil. Apple might have to buy the iPad name from Transform Tecnologia de Ponta if the trading issue is not resolved by the end of May.

To add to the headache, other companies have now come forward claiming their stake in the iPad fortune: for example Magtek, the manufacturer of electronic devices, uses the ipad name for its credit card swiping technology. However, it is worth noting that two companies can own the same trademark as long as they are registered for different types of products or services, so in the case of Coconut Grove, a Canadian company which uses the iPad name for its underwear range, Apple would not be breaching its brand rights.

These disputes over an already iconic brand name demonstrate the value of registering your company or product's trademark; even if your product isn't an international sensation, the name it is registered under as a trademark could become incredibly valuable if a competitor wants to use it. Had Transform Tecnologia de Ponta not registered the name in Brazil, it may well have had to cease trading very quickly under the iPad trademark and completely re-brand - a costly process for any business.

With a company as protective of its brand as Apple, it is difficult to imagine it hadn't foreseen trademark conflicts - for it the name is worth fighting and paying for. For small businesses which haven't got round to registering their own trademarks yet this should be a wake-up call.

It is likely in the cases of technology competitors that the rights will end up with Apple, either through a purchase or legal wrangling. For a tech start-up or company which may have launched its own iPad product, whether it was a communication device or a new version of Etch-A-Sketch, without a trademark its product name would, in most circumstances, be defenceless and in any circumstances expensive to retain. This makes evident the importance of registering your company's trademark.

To check for free whether your company or product name can be trademarked visit www.trademarkdirect.co.uk.

Mark Kingsley Williams is a director at  Trade Mark Direct

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This was first published in April 2010


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