It was said that the reason Steve Jobs was a big fan of the Beatles and named his company Apple after the record label of the same name owned by The Beatles.
Many companies are fiercely protective of their brands so it was probably no surprise that Apple (the record label) sued Apple (the computer company) in 1978 for trademark infringement. As a result the computer company paid the record label $80,000 and agreed not to enter the music business if they agreed not to enter the computer business.
As we all know, Apple Computer did enter the music business and it took millions of dollars and many years of litigation before the dispute was finally reconciled. This is why it was not until 2010 that Beatles albums were made available on iTunes.
Throughout this dispute it was the Beatles who were portrayed as the aggressors, but Apple are no strangers to taking aggressive action themselves. Between 2008 and 2010 Apple filed more than 350 cases with the US Trademark office alone, with the cases targeting anyone and everyone who came even close to referring to Apple-branded items - including sellers of actual apples!
Most recently Apple have taken exception to a family-run café in Germany, claiming that their logo bears a striking resemblance to their own. See the picture below and judge for yourself. The image on the left is the Apple logo while that on the right is that of the Apfelkind café.
Generally what we see of a company is simply their products, their advertising and their press releases – in other words, what they want us to see. But disputes like this allow us to see much more – they provide an invaluable insight into the actual workings of a company, their values and attitudes.
The letter Apple lawyers sent to Mrs Romer, the owner of the Apfelkind (Applechild) café in Bonn, claimed that her logo could ‘confuse Apple customers’. Precisely how someone would mistake a café for an Apple store beats me, but perhaps Apple simply have a very low opinion of the IQ of their customers, and since this includes me, I find it somewhat insulting.
Obviously, the reason Apple engage in litigation like this is because what they are selling is not technology, they are selling a ‘lifestyle brand’ in a similar way to organisations such as Gucci, Ferrari or Rolex. But it is still insulting that they clearly don’t think that I am capable of distinguishing between Apple products and other similar product offerings.
As an example of a radically different approach Herb Kelleher, the founder and Chairman of Southwest Airlines once settled a trademark dispute by proposing an arm wrestling contest. The plaintiffs, Stevens Aviation, had been using the catchphrase “Plane Smart” for a year before Southwest inadvertently infringed on their rights with its “Just Plane Smart” campaign.
Click here to watch a video of the contest.
Instead of spending a fortune in layers fees, the contest raised money for a charity and generated free publicity for both companies. But more importantly, the contest reinforced the company value of having fun at work and Kelleher knew that the company’s values were much more important than a catchphrase or marketing initiative.
Kelleher actually lost the contest but amazingly, Kurt Herwald, chairman of Stevens Aviation, agreed to let Southwest continue to use the phrase.
I believe that people all too often confuse brands and logos. To me a brand is synonymous with the company’s values whereas a logo is simply an image to recognise a company by. When people confuse the two, it may be a sign that their values are not what they should be.