Apple Inc., a leading purveyor of premium mobile electronics and maker of the wildly successful iPhones and iPods, has shown itself to be very aggressive in attacking other firms that dare use trademarks containing apple fruit. A while ago, it sued the city of New York for using an apple for a logo on one of the city’s green projects.
Now Apple has filed an equally perplexing trademark complaint against Woolworths, Australia’s largest retailer. Woolworths innocently redesigned their logo in the shape of a ‘W’ that also looked like a piece of produce. That turned out to be a potentially costly mistake as Apple’s legal team quickly seized on the fact that the company’s green logo bore a faint resemblance to an apple fruit.
Apple Inc. believes that it has obtained complete trademark rights to any fruit logos even vaguely apple-themed, despite there being numerous “apple”-named and branded corporations, such as The Beatles’ Apple Corp., that existed long before Apple Computer (later to become Apple Inc.) sold its first computer.
When it comes to the Australian logo, the logo is a mix of dark and light green and is painted in artistic swaths, bearing little resemblance to Apple’s iconic insignia in size, color, or shape.
Woolworths filed for the trademark in August of last year. The new logo now adorns the company’s trucks, stores and products. Replacing it would likely cost in the millions, to take a conservative guess. Nonetheless, Apple is insisting that IP Australia, Australia’s government regulators, bow to its will and deny the trademark (Woolworths’ new trademark has not yet been approved).
It is possible that Woolworths and Apple could compete in the consumer electronics or computer market, as one of the retailer’s chains of stores (Big W) sells a variety of electronics, akin to Walmart or Target in the U.S. However, the vast majority of consumers should face little confusion in differentiating the Woolworths logo from Apple’s. Nonetheless, Apple believes the Australian retailer’s logo will damage its brand.
Hans Hulsbosch, the artist who designed the new logo, says it isn’t even an apple necessarily, and points out that the company’s literature never called it an “apple”. He says Apple Inc. is taking its legal aggression “to the extreme.” He adds, “Based on this logic, they would have to take action against every fruitseller.”
Trademark lawyer, Trevor Choy, though, says he sees nothing wrong with Apple trying to proactively legally challenge any company with an apple fruit-related logo. He states, “They are just covering off any eventualities. This is often the prelude to settling [the matter]. I doubt it’ll go all the way unless, of course, Woolworths decides that they want to go into computers … I doubt Apple expects to win.”
Apple is also actively actively litigating in the form of complaints or lawsuits against music festival promoter, Poison Apple, which has applied to trademark an apple with a bite out of it atop crossed bones; and Adults Only, a pornography channel which has a logo featuring an Apple, devil’s tail, and arrow.
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