Apple Just Lost a Trademark Dispute Against Mobile Web Developers Wapple – Here’s WhyPosted: February 23, 2012
As Techcrunch reported today, Apple just lost a 5 year long trademark dispute against mobile web development company Wapple. Apple originally filed the lawsuit in 2007, the year it first released the iPhone.
If you don’t look at any further details of the case, the outcome might seem surprising. With Apple now so ingrained in the world’s mobile device economy, it would seem obvious that a mobile development company named Wapple must be trying to ride their coattails. Delve further into the case however and there’s a good reason Apple didn’t win.
The Apple of today has its hands in computing, music, mobile devices and more. If you tried to start a company today as closely named to Apple as Wapple in one of those areas, Apple could likely file a trademark case against you and win. After all, your name would be confusingly similar, you would be directly in competition with Apple and you would be starting business well after they have entered these areas.
As it happens in this case however, Wapple was around well before Apple got involved in the mobile space. They started in 2003, incorporated in 2004 and filed a trademark for their name in 2006. Apple may have had the iPod during those years, but besides playing music, those iPods didn’t serve any other “mobile” purpose. In other words, Apple wasn’t into anything closely related to mobile web development.
That hasn’t stopped other large companies in the past from going after major domains using UDRP and even trademark lawsuits. Nissan.com is a well-documented case of that happening. The owner of it had owned their computer repair shop since before Nissan Motors was even named that (they were Datsun previously).
Nissan Motors however felt they had the absolute right to that domain name and have made many legal attempts to win it and at minimum mire the current owner in a legal skirmish for many years. The Nissan.com owner has documented their struggles here.
While Apple and Nissan may have lost their trademark disputes, many larger companies like them are able to use legal threats to get smaller businesses to balk and hand over their domain and/or use a different domain. Since larger companies can more easily afford the legal costs of a trademark lawsuit, it often simply doesn’t make good financial sense to fight them even if they’re wrong.
That said, in the end these cases do cost them a lot of money if they aren’t won, and it’s refreshing to see these cases judged properly. As Wapple explained, their name was a play on the term WAP, which is the kind of mobile development predominant on cell phones before the iPhone came out. Since it was not an area that Apple was involved in yet, they lost the case.
Keep that in mind if you are ever involved in a trademark dispute. There are many factors to consider, and even if on the surface it may seem like you have a losing case, make sure to contact an IP lawyer and confirm. IP law has many different nooks and crannies and while trademark law may seem simple, these kinds of cases can get very complicated.