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PATENTS AND TRADEMARKS

iPad: A Funny Name, and a Trademark Dispute

Fujitsu claims a 2003 trademark application gives it dibs on the iPad name. Could the dispute prevent the tablet from shipping?

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As consumers debate the merits of the name iPad versus other contenders such as iSlate, the technology company Fujitsu is defending the widely-mocked moniker – as its own.

The Fujitsu iPad – a portable, touch-screen, Wi-Fi enabled device launched in 2002 – was designed for retail use, to help "shop clerks verify prices, check real-time inventory data and close sales on the go," the New York Times reports. Now, following Apple's grandiose product unveiling, the Tokyo-based technology company is claiming dibs on the name and bracing for a dispute with Apple.

"It's our understanding that the name is ours," Masahiro Yamane, Fujitsu's public relations director, told the Times. He said Fujitsu is consulting lawyers.

Trademark disputes are, of course, nothing new for Apple. "This is so like Apple," says San Francisco trademark lawyer Lawrence Townsend. "They launched the iPhone knowing Cisco had the name – quite a gorilla in the room. It seems to be their mode of doing business." The Cupertino, California company also waged an infamous legal battle  against the Beatles-owned record label, Apple Records, in 1981. (As part of the resolution of that case, Steve Jobs promised he would never enter the music business.)

With respect to this latest trademark squabble, Fujitsu applied to trademark the name iPad in 2003. This application was listed as "abandoned" as of last April, at which point the company reapplied for the trademark. Further clouding the ownership history of the name: A tech security company called Mag-Tek also moved to register the name iPad in the past.

Does Apple have any basis for challenging Fujitsu? Perhaps. "Generally, in trademark law, it's all about who is the first to use a name on a physical product, and ship that product across state lines to be seen by consumers," Townsend says.

Moreover, Apple could potentially argue that Fujitsu's original use of the name iPad was confusingly similar to that of Apple's early iPod, which was trademarked in October 2001. it would be a risky position to stake out: Claiming senior rights to that vowel substitution gets muddled by the fact Apple would be simultaneously be arguing against the name's use and for re-registering the handle.

Fujitsu will likely argue that the names are not so similar when one considers Apple only used the iPod back then as a music-storage-and-playing device. Now that Apple has moved into Fujitsu's mobile-wireless-device-with-touch-screen territory, Fujitsu could allege that Apple wants to grab a name already in use.

Could the brewing suit stop Apple from getting its tablets in the hands of consumers? Probably not. Legal experts say Fujitsu would have to have an extraordinarily strong, clear-cut case to convince a judge to grant a preliminary injunction and stop Apple from shipping its product.

"It's a pretty good stand-off," Townsend said. "Clearly Apple is well advised legally, and has considered this. They probably think they have a better case on this one than they did over keeping the iPhone name."

What's more likely is that a trial will be slated for more than a year in the future, giving the two companies ample time to work out a settlement.

Whether the lesser iPads of the world, each with dibs on the name, will seek damages as well is hard to know. These contenders include a line of abrasive scrubbing pads for kitchen purposes, certain engines and motors made by Siemens, and the iPad padded bras by Canadian lingerie company Coconut Grove Pads.

IMAGE: Newscom
Last updated: Jan 28, 2010




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