The Apple Trademark Dispute and Tips for Selecting an Ownable Logo

This week, Apple finally announced that iTunes will sell music from the Beatles. Apple Inc. and Apple Corps have been in a long-lasting legal dispute over the trademark beginning in 1978, which just recently ended in 2007 when the companies agreed on joint use of the apple logo and name. Both the official Apple and Beatles home pages were updated this week to announce the big news – a sort of visual symbolic marriage.

Although this is one of the most famous trademark disputes due to the high stakes of each mega-company, this type of issue can also effect companies of all scales. In this instance, even though the companies are in two completely different categories, they share almost the same name and logo identity. Even though the execution of the logo marks is completely different, it has not stopped either side in pursuing ownership of the apple name and symbol. The takeaway here to us is that no matter how common or recognizable something like an apple can be, it can over time have significant equity to both the company and the audience utilizing it for its corporate identity. And the bigger the company, the bigger the stakes.

This principle can be applied to any brand identity project, which is why thorough exploration and research is so critical in the creative process (in addition to a thorough trademark search through a specialized lawyer once a logo is selected). For a business owner embarking on launching a brand or rebranding their company, there are a few basic questions to ask in the when evaluating logo choices to help ensure a unique logo mark design:

1. Is the new identity concept unique to the company alone?

In general, the rule of thumb is if you can cover up the mark and place another competitor’s name next to the mark, it is probably not ownable enough.

2. Are both the logo mark symbol and font proprietary?

Part of designing a successful logo is utilizing clichés, which can be important for the consumer to quickly understand the meaning of the mark. But the downside of this is that it can also lead to a lot of similarity in logo designs. If the mark is stylistically unique enough to stand out from other marks that may share this symbol, it is most likely going to be ownable.

3. Are the brand colors unique?

One of the goals in building a brand identity is creating ownability of a color – think Starbucks green or Tiffany blue. If your brand identity color palette is too similar to a competitor, there may be confusion.

Even if your new mark passes these basic questions, it is still critical to hire an experienced trademark attorney to conduct a thorough search before investing in the launch of a new brand. Many of the details of a logo mark can be subjective, but a detailed search can help to make the process become much more clear.