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9 peculiar patents & troublesome tech trademarks

Apple versus The Beatles; Motorola versus R2D2

Trademarks and patents are a major issue in technology. If you've got a good product name or idea then your first instinct is to protect it.

However, it's also a bit of a minefield. Not only can patents and trademarks cause headaches for other inventors, but they also cover things you might think were unprotectable or already in existence. (Did you know it's possible to trademark a colour? Me neither).

So we've rounded up nine peculiar examples of patents and trademarks in action in the tech world.

We can't work it out

In 1978, fledgling computer company Apple Computers was two years old, and already facing trademark trouble over its very corporate identity. Worse, the troublemakers were a quartet of Steve Jobs' heroes: The Beatles.

The Fab Four, who had formed Apple Corps in 1968 to oversee their business affairs, thought that Apple Computer's name and activities were uncomfortably similar to those of their company.

So Apple Corps sued Apple Computer. It settled in 1981, then sued again in 1986 as the music capabilities of Apple's computers became more sophisticated. That suit was settled in 1991.

Then Apple Corps sued again in 2003, as Apple entered the music business in a big way with the iTunes Music Store.

In 2007, the two companies made peace once more - this time, in an apparently permanent fashion that is said to have made the surviving Beatles even more prosperous.

Of course, the only sign of a harmonious Beatle-Apple relationship most music lovers and/or computer nerds care about is still nowhere to be seen: a deal to put the lads' albums on the iTunes Store.

Mac attack

Early Apple employee Jef Raskin had a favourite apple. It was the McIntosh - but since that was also the name of a manufacturer of high-end audio equipment, he bestowed the new computer he was spearheading with an intentionally misspelled code name: Macintosh. He figured that would sidestep any trademark problems.

He figured wrong: The McIntosh loudspeaker folks weren't thrilled with the prospect of a similar-sounding computer, despite a letter Steve Jobs wrote to them: "We have become very attached to the name Macintosh. Much like one's own child, our product has developed a very definite personality".

According to Apple historian Owen Linzmayer, the computer company and the audio company struck a licensing deal in March 1983; early Mac ads include a credit for McIntosh Labs.

In 1986, Apple paid McIntosh a fee - how much remains a secret to this day - for permanent rights to the name 'Macintosh'. Twenty-three years later, the computers and the fancy audio gear continue to co-exist.

NEXT PAGE: Two clicks good, one click bad

  1. Tech companies can run into problems when it comes to product names
  2. Two clicks good, one click bad
  3.  Over the edge
  4. We just patented podcasting


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