Forbidden fruit

A very serious fight between Apple Computers and Apple Records of The Beatles is now headed for the ninth round.

On this side of the ring is Sir Paul McCartney, a legendary musical artist. On the other side is Steve Jobs, with a legendary reputation for being the first to lead the personal

computer revolution.

The fight is all about the name and use of the word “Apple” and its right owners.

The Beatles have already successfully defeated Apple Computer in the earlier rounds, since The Beatles formed Apple Records in 1958 back when Jobs was just toying with the wires in his garage. Apple Computer was formed much later, so Jobs had to pay Apple Records some $25 million very quietly in a settlement after a long and very bitter, expensive battle. These fights will continue to be quite common, as long as picking names for corporate branding is considered a simple task.

Now the saga opens again. This time, the trouble was echoed, just by hitting similar musical notes on the innovation scale. It started with the creation of iTunes. Simply put, both of the forbidden fruits deemed going into the same business of music.

It is suggested that the fight is so intense that keeping aside 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.

The debate is on two fronts: “name confusion” and “wares”. Wares are things for which a name is registered under and used and confusion comes when customers can’t identify the correct company. On grounds of confusion, The Beatles were too picky in 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.

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 pre-warning from a trademark attorney seriously and would rather proceed with a gung-ho launch of the name so that later attorneys can pay millions in damages, while the corporation dodges other embarrassing court cases.

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Naseem Javed, author Naming for Power and also Domain Wars, is recognized as a world authority on global name identities and domain issues. Javed founded ABC Namebank, a consultancy he established a quarter century ago, and conducts executive workshops on image and name identity issues

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