THE FORBIDDEN FRUITS & SINGING BANANAS

13 November 2006
Naseem Javed
Naseem Javed

A very serious fight between Apple Computers and Apple Records of The Beatles is now headed for the ninth round.

On this side of the ring is Sir Paul McCartney, with the title of a legendary musical artist and boyish looks with a cute smile. On the other side, yet another youthful boy wonder, Steve Job with his intellect and a legendary title for being the first to lead the start of the personal computer revolution.

The fight is all about the name and use of the word "Apple", and its right owners. The Beatles have already, successfully defeated Apple Computers in the earlier rounds, as The Beatles formed Apple Records in 1958, when Steve was just toying with the wires in his garage. Apple Computers was formed much later, so they had to pay Apple Records some $25 million very quietly in a settlement after a long and very bitter and expensive battle. These fights are quite common, as long as picking names for corporate branding is considered a simple task.

Now, suddenly, right in the middle, the saga opens again. This time, the trouble was echoed, just by hitting similar musical notes on the innovation scale. It started with the creation of iTune. Simply put, both of the forbidden fruits deemed going into the same business of music. Now the battalions of American attorneys with high price blue suits and howdy-doody firm handshakes are engaged in pillow fights with the tight-lip, upper-crusted British solicitors of the Empire, suited in grey flannel, costumed wigs and all. The sun already set on this empire a long time ago but the zesty spirit is still there. Right on.

"Order! Order! Order!"
The story is so simple and the lesson ever so very clear. Never name a company after a fruit. Now for all those corporations whose corporate branding originated out of a botanical or a zoological expedition, this should be a big lesson and a serious warning. Look out, the serpent cometh your way. Sooner or later, the fruit basket will be kicked and legal fights will start. Watch out for the tumbling of corporate brand identities the likes of Oranges, Pineapples, Apricots, Cherries and Peaches, as periodically, they all have their days in court and most fade away in the long haul. Apple Records and Apple Computers are now two rare examples of such survivals in the modern times.

It is suggested that the fight is so intense that keeping aside the famous large class-action suits; this settlement would be the largest amount in legal history. It has been reported that when this mind-boggling amount is introduced, there will be a possibility that Apple Records could get a chunk of equity from Apple Computers plus a board membership. Talk about a bite.

Mr.Banana
It is also said that The Beatles have suggested that Apple Computers should call itself a "Banana" or anything other than apple. Now, now where are their British manners? Are consumers really ready to carry "Mr. iBanana"?

The story gets bigger. The debate is on two fronts "name confusion" and "wares". Wares are things for which a name is registered under and used and confusion comes when customers can't identify the correct company. On ground on confusion, The Beatles were too picky to pick the first round as no one confused Apple Computers with Apple Records. Now the issue is "wares" and increasingly under the trademark laws "wares" are becoming problematic. Example, how do you differentiate easily between Media, Music, News, or Web, Internet, Computers, with Cable, Voice, or Technology? They all seem to be just one bundle of services.

iPod, iTune and related items are now in direct clash with vinyl records and music sheets. True, they are closely related this time. Who knew then, when Beatles in1958 picked up the name "Apple" quiet innocently and so did Steve Job. That was then, this is now. The entire globe and entire markets shrank and it seems that everyone is now on top of each other. Corporate branding is no longer a game of picking names out of a hat.

It is very hard for trademark practitioners to look out for these merging technologies and changing perceptions. But then, most CEOs and corporate executives would not take a pre-warning from a trademark attorney seriously and rather proceed with a gung-ho launch of the name so that later Messer's Howdy-Doody Attorneys can pay millions in damages, while corporation dodges from embarrassing court cases.

When will your corporation be in court to defend your corporate branding and your name identity? This can be established very easily. Enter your name in "quotes" in Google and if there are dozens of identical business names and they are also in your related business then it's time you quickly start a legal-fund as the serpent cometh your way too.




About Naseem Javed
Naseem Javed, author of Naming for Power and Domain Wars, is recognised as a world authority on global Name Identities and Domain Issues. Javed founded ABC Namebank, a consultancy established in New York & Toronto a quarter century ago. Naseem conducts exclusive executive workshops on image & name identities issues via web conferences.