A very serious fight between Apple Computer and Apple Records of The Beatles is now headed for the ninth round.
On this side of the ring is Sir Paul McCartney, with the title of a legendary musical artist and boyish looks with a cute smile. On the other side, yet another youthful boy wonder, Steve Jobs, with his intellect and a legendary title for being the first to lead the start of the personal computer revolution.
The fight is all about the name and use of the word “Apple,” and its right owners.
The Beatles already have successfully defeated Apple Computer in the earlier rounds, as The Beatles formed Apple Records in 1968, when Steve was just toying with the wires in his garage.
Apple Computer was formed much later, so it had to pay Apple Records some $25 million very quietly in a settlement after a long and very bitter and expensive battle.
These fights are quite common, as long as picking names for corporate branding is considered a simple task.
Now, suddenly, the saga opens again. This time, just by hitting similar musical notes on the innovation scale, the trouble was echoed. It started with the creation of iTunes.
Simply put, both of the forbidden fruits went into the same business of music. Now the battalions of American attorneys with high-priced blue suits and howdy-doody firm handshakes are engaged in pillow fights with the tight-lipped, upper-crusted British solicitors of the Empire, suited in grey flannel, costumed wigs and all.
The sun already set on this empire a long time ago but the zesty spirit is still there. Right on.
“Order! Order! Order!”
The story is so simple and the lesson ever so very clear. Never name a company after a fruit.
Now for all those corporations whose corporate branding originated out of a botanical or a zoological expedition, this should be a big lesson and a serious warning. Look out, the serpent cometh your way. Sooner or later, the fruit basket will be kicked and legal fights will start.
Beware of Fruity Names
Watch out for the tumbling of corporate brand identities the likes of oranges, pineapples, apricots, cherries and peaches, as periodically they all have their days in court, and most fade away in the long haul. Apple Records and Apple Computer are now two rare examples of such survivals in modern times.
It is suggested that the fight is so intense that, aside from the famous large class-action suits, this settlement would be the largest amount in legal history. It has been reported that when this mind-boggling amount is introduced, there will be a possibility that Apple Records could get a chunk of equity from Apple Computer plus a board membership. Talk about a bite.
It is also said that The Beatles have suggested that Apple Computer should call itself a “Banana,” or anything other than apple.
Now, now where are their British manners? Are consumers really ready to carry “Mr. iBanana”?
The story gets bigger. The debate is on two fronts: “name confusion” and “wares”. Wares are things for which a name is registered and used, and confusion comes when customers can’t identify the correct company.
Issue Is ‘Wares’
On the basis of confusion, The Beatles were too picky to pick the first round, as no one confused Apple Computer with Apple Records. Now the issue is “wares,” and increasingly under the trademark laws, “wares” are becoming problematic. For example, how do you differentiate easily between media, music, news or Web, Internet, computers, with cable, voice or technology? They all seem to be just one bundle of services.
iPod, iTunes and related items are now in direct clash with vinyl records and music sheets. True, they are closely related this time.
Who knew then, when The Beatles in 1968 picked up the name “Apple” quite innocently, and so did Steve Jobs later. That was then, this is now. The entire globe and entire markets have shrunk, and it seems that everyone is now on top of each other. Corporate branding is no longer a game of picking names out of a hat.
It is very hard for trademark practitioners to look out for these merging technologies and changing perceptions. But then, most CEOs and corporate executives would not take a prewarning from a trademark attorney seriously and instead would proceed with a gung-ho launch of the name so that later Messer’s Howdy-Doody Attorneys can pay millions in damages, while the corporation dodges from embarrassing court cases.
When will your corporation be in court to defend your corporate branding and your name identity? This can be established very easily. Enter your name in “quotes” in Google, and if there are dozens of identical business names, and they are also in your related business, then it’s time you quickly start a legal-fund, as the serpent cometh your way, too.
Naseem Javed, author Naming for Power and alsoDomain Wars, is recognized as a world authority on global nameidentities and domain issues. Javed founded ABC Namebank, aconsultancy he established a quarter century ago, and conducts executiveworkshops on image and name identity issues. Contact him at [email protected]