Tuesday September 9th was the day that follower of Apple’s hoopla looked forward to, as the company from Cupertino had, as customary, gotten folks the world over hooked on its (performance and release of album by U2 included) over the iPhone 6 and its wearable device, which everybody expected would be named as “iWatch”, following the branding convention set since the iMac, the first iPhone, the iPod (which will now be laid to rest -apparently Apple finally conceded that its devices were overlapping-), the iPad, and the service platform attached to them, such as the desecrated (since the “#CelebGate”) iCloud and even the “iForgot” password retrieval feature.
However this wearable device, the thing of science fiction less than 30 years ago (when the Dick Tracy film was released), did not follow that branding convention. The New York Times ran a piece on it today, and so did I over a year ago. It essentially boils down to a matter of intellectual property, more specifically of trademark prosecution: the Times reports that since Apple was about to launch its TV product and Steve Jobs hinted it might be called “iTV”, the British broadcaster ITV PLC would oppose it. Apparently now Swatch followed suit and took preemptive measures with the trademark offices of the world to make it known that Apple’s attempts to brand this device as an “iWatch” could lead to confusion relative to their iSwatch product (registered with Mexico’s Trademark Office “IMPI” -you can look them up through their MARCANET service-) for products under NCL 14 (clocks and watches), 35 (advertising and retail sales thereof) as well as 37 (repair thereof),
In the case of Mexico, as noted in that post herein from July 4th, 2013 and reported by news journal Reforma, a third party filed to register iWatch in advance of Apple, and ultimately both ran into a prior registration granted in 2011 to an Italian company “I’m, SpA”, which began selling its I’m Watch in 2013. And that has not been the only case in which Apple found such obstacles to the pursuit of its naming convention; since last year the press in Mexico reported extensively on the case that mobile carriers here lost against a Mexican company that had secured the registration for “iFone” since 2002, under which resolution hefty fines were assessed against all three then-major carriers but not against Apple, as iFone, S.A. de C.V., had secured said registration for the head-class of Telecomm Services (NCL 38), but apparently not for equipment therefor (NCL 9).
In sum this case illustrates quite clearly how challenging it can be for a global company to follow and implement a branding convention the world over. For sure a company can file for “preemptive” or “defensive” registrations, but unlike domain names trade and service marks cannot be stockpiled indefinetly; both US and Mexican trademark law provide for a term of 3 years for a registered trade or service mark to be effectively used in commerce, or otherwise registrations thereof may be cancelled. It may be difficult for design and development departments to meet with that time window in getting products or services to the market.
Also it often happens that legal and marketing don’t see eye-to-eye, and that is generally a matter of mindsets. Whereas MKT would love for its brands to be the top of mind of consumers in their market niche, for legal that would mean risking the loss of registrations thereof on account of such marks becoming generic, and that would result in loss of valuable intangible assets. This day in age its essential for MKT to regard legal as an allied and an enabler, and for legal to guide MKT through the intricacies and nuances of intellectual property law in a way that affords the company’s intangible assets the best protection possible.