Wednesday, June 4, 2008
Posted by Suhit Gupta in "Digital Home Articles & Resources" @ 05:00 AM
"On Jan. 8, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office granted Apple Inc. a trademark for the three-dimensional shape of its iPod media player. This was more than a recognition of an innovative product design. It also was Apple's capping piece in a multiyear marketing and legal campaign that pushed intellectual-property rights to new competitive advantage for the company. In many ways, Apple is benefiting from an expansion of U.S. trademark rights, beyond the traditional names, images, logos and two-dimensional symbols trademarks usually secure. In recent years, trademarks have been granted for such things as product shapes, colors and scents that companies can claim are linked exclusively to the source company in consumers' minds. These nontraditional marks are difficult to obtain... The iPod shape trademark gives Apple a new weapon in the fiercely competitive market for media players. While competitors may eventually appropriate the iPod's inner workings, as utility patents expire, they will risk litigation if their products come too close to the trademarked shape of the iPod, including its popular circular-touchpad interface."
I understand that Apple has responsibilities to its shareholders and this trademark will certainly boost revenue in the future, but I find this to be an extremely competition-squashing move, almost more so than Microsoft and its use of Windows to spread other Microsoft software. When I first read that the shape had been trademarked, I figured that it is reasonable since the iPod does have a truly distinct shape and this move may promote some innovation in the space from competitors But I was then was slightly horrified when I read the following -- "In January, the Patent and Trademark Office granted Apple the nontraditional trademark it desired, along with the following more specific description of the approved mark: "[T]he design of a portable and handheld digital electronic media device comprised of a rectangular casing displaying circular and rectangular shapes therein arranged in an aesthetically pleasing manner."" That is so incredibly broad that I feel like any personal music player fits into this sort of category. I guess competitors can claim that their devices are not aesthetic? Or maybe they can place all buttons at an angle and claim that they are in the shape of a rhombus than a rectangle. Honestly, I cannot believe the US Patent Office granted a trademark that is so broad.
Having said this, the WSJ article does do a pretty good job of explaining non-traditional trademarks in laymen terms as well as the entire process for Apple to trademark the shape.