In perhaps one of the lengthiest disputes over trademark, Apple Corps v. Apple Computer were a series of trademark infringement cases that spanned over the course of nearly three decades. Technology and the music industry came together in the courtroom battling against each other. Theses cases showed further how two completely unrelated entities (a record label and a computer manufacturing company) can still find reasons to sue each other.
The Apple Records Company was formed by the Beatles in 1968 as a tax shelter. The company in fact still in existence and continues to sell Beatles’ records to this day. The logo for the record company is a distinctive green Granny Smith apple. In 1978, Apple Corps sued Apple (the computer company) for trademark infringement, claiming that Apple Computers were creating confusion in the market place. The two companies reached an out of court settlement of $80,000, and one of the terms of the settlement was that Apple computers would stay out of the music business. Then in 1991, Apple Corps sued Apple computer, claiming the production of Apple Computers with Music Digital Interface was a direct violation of the agreement made between the two companies in 1978 case. Apple Computers were forced to pay an even large out of court settlement this time: $26.5 Million. Apple computers agreed that even though it was involved in digital music, it would not package, sell, or distribute music in a physical medium. Twelve years later, when Apple computers launched it’s digital music store, iTunes, Apple Corps sued Apple Computer (who changed their name to Apple, Inc in 1997) for breach of contract due to the existence of iTunes. On May 6 , 2006, a high court judge found that Apple, Inc. not violating the trademark agreement made between the two companies in 1991, and that iTunes was completely acceptable considering the music was not, after all, being distributed on physical mediums (ie CDs, tapes, Vinyls, etc).
Theses cases are another example how it seems like corporations are simply out to get theirs and one of the few times where Apple, Inc. appears to be in the right in my opinion. Computers and The Beatles are completely unrelated, in my opinion, so anyone with even a shred of common sense would easily be able to differentiate between the two companies, so I doubt there would have been any confusion in the market place. Then again, $80,000 is a pretty reasonable settlement. I still, however, I somewhat understand why Apple Corps did what they did (at that time) as perhaps their intentions were to protect the music of the Beatles. In the second case in 1991, I think it is somewhat absurd in my opinion. Just because Apple, Inc started to make music that could produce sounds doesn’t mean they were trying to get into the music industry necessarily. More than likely, they were just trying to improve their product (a product in a market place which DOES NOT include the music of the Beatles). The 2006 decision finally sent a message to Apple Corps that all of these lawsuits were getting out of hand, and Apple, Inc. were completely in their right to use iTunes, especially since they were not even selling the music of Beatles. In my opinion, Apple Corps should have spent less time in the court and more time trying to preserve the legacy of one of the most cherished and well known rock bands in history.
“TRADEMARKS – Apple Inc. vs. Apple Corp, a Long and Winding Road.” Woods Lonergan. N.p., 2008. Web. 22 Apr. 2014.
“What’s at the Core of Apple Records vs. Apple Ipod?” Legal Zoom. N.p., 2008. Web. 22 Apr. 2014.