Apple Opposes Trademark For Indie Film 'Apple-Man' Claiming Potential Confusion

from the billable-hours dept

When it comes to silly trademark disputes, Apple has come up for discussion many, many times. The mega-corporation is a jealous defender of all of its IP, but most of our stories have focused on its disputes with companies that created logos that involve any sort of apple or other fruit. Sometimes it’s not even companies that Apple is fighting with, but entire foreign political parties. The idea here is that when it comes to logos or trade dress, Apple appears to think that it owns all the apples.

But what about the word itself? Well, the company can get absurd at that level, too. For instance, Apple recently opposed the trademark application for a Ukrainian filmmaker’s indie opus, entitled Apple-Man.

Apple in December filed an opposition with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office seeking to block Ukrainian director Vasyl Moskalenko’s trademark application for his indie project. The world’s most valuable company argues that viewers will mistakenly believe Apple-Man is associated with Apple and that the movie will dilute its brand.

“The Apple Marks are so famous and instantly recognizable that the similarities in Applicant’s Mark will overshadow any minor differences and cause the ordinary consumer to believe that Applicant is related to, affiliated with, or endorsed by Apple,” states the filing, which is embedded below. “Consumers are likely to assume, erroneously, that Applicant’s Mark is a further extension of the famous Apple brand.”

Alright, so let’s stipulate the following right up front: Apple’s trademark on its name is no doubt famous. That affords the company far more protection on that mark than your normal everyday trademark. One of the main differences, however, is that Apple can enforce the mark not only for customer confusion, but for things like tarnishment, if someone used the term in a way that could be seen as disparaging to Apple.

In the quote above, Apple is going the traditional confusion route in its opposition. But that’s unbelievably silly. This is an indie film that nobody is going to associate with Apple. It’s also, because it’s a film, entitled to First Amendment protections that are almost certain to override any trademark concerns, particularly those as flimsy as Apple’s.

Elsewhere, Apple argues for dilution.

Apple also argues the trademark, if granted, will “cause dilution of the distinctiveness of the famous Apple Marks by eroding consumers’ exclusive identification of the Apple Marks with Apple.”

But consumers don’t have an exclusive identification of the Apple Marks with Apple. That should be obvious on its face. Lots of companies, for instance, use the term “Apple” in branding for… you know… apples. There have also been other films, more specifically, that make use of the word “apple” in their names. There is one called The Apple. And another called Apples. So what does Apple’s lawyers see as the difference between those films use and Apple-Man? ¯_(?)_/¯

Jeremy Eche of JPG Legal, who represents Moskalenko, argues “apple” isn’t a proprietary word and viewers won’t be misled by the movie.

“This is ridiculous,” he tells The Hollywood Reporter. “They really want to own the word ‘Apple’ in every industry.”

Eche contends Apple is a “trademark bully” exploiting the system.

Of that there can be little doubt. So why is Apple even bothering with any of this? Well, outside council is involved, so the term “billable hours” immediately leaps to mind. But Apple’s history of trademark bullying also doesn’t exactly preclude a haphazard and capricious enforcement of its trademarks. The lawyers saw this one, so they went after it.

And before anyone wants to jump in the comments and point out that Apple makes and provides film content via AppleTV and iTunes… don’t. Doing so does not suddenly mean the company can keep a filmmaker from making a film that uses the word in its title, nor for trademarking the name of that film.

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Companies: apple

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Comments on “Apple Opposes Trademark For Indie Film 'Apple-Man' Claiming Potential Confusion”

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That One Guy (profile) says:

Apple: Our customers are INCREDIBLY stupid

No, that makes perfect sense, why just last week I went to the grocery store because I heard they were selling apples and to my great surprise I was pointed towards a pile of fruit. How dare the store and it’s staff deceive people by telling their customers that they are selling apples when they clearly are not, don’t they understand that when someone hears ‘apple’ the only thing that comes to mind is electronics of various types?

Anonymous Coward says:

Didn't Apple Computing already break their agreement?

Looking at a bit of history, Apple Corp (founded by the Beatles) sued Apple Computer back in 1978. The eventual agreement resulted in Apple Computer paying Apple Corp $80,000 and Apple Computer agreeing to not enter the Music market, while Apple Corp agreed to not enter the computer business.

Seems that iTunes blatantly violates that agreement.

This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it.

shyam says:

Didn't Apple Computing already break their agreement?

Looking at a bit of history, Apple Corp (founded by the Beatles) sued Apple Computer back in 1978. And don’t get Apple started on those "Jobs" bills.
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