In my last blog post, I introduced the concept of a trademark bully and gave an example, using Monster Beverage Company for illustration purposes. In that blog post, I highlighted the specific problems associated with an attack by a trademark bully. You can read the “Trademark Battles (part 1)” blog post here. For this installment, we’ll focus on another notorious trademark bully, Apple (a/k/a Apple Computer). While Apple has a lot of satisfied customers, they also have angered a lot of people with their aggressive trademark enforcement tactics.
Bully #2 – Apple
One of the most striking examples of trademark bullying came to light a few years ago when Apple went after a small software company named Prepear. Prepear makes a mobile cooking app that allows users to add their favorite recipes from anywhere, and organize them into “Connected Cookbooks.” Apple challenged the trademark being used by Prepear, claiming that consumers would be confused, thinking that Apple was sponsoring or supporting Prepear, based on the similarity of the logos. Here are the original logos of Prepear and Apple compared side-by-side.
As you can see, one of the logos is in the shape of a pear and the other logo is in the shape of an apple.
Prepear decided that they were not going to go down without putting up a fight. However, in order to fight a company like Apple, Prepear knew they would need to change the battlefield if they were going to have a chance to win.
Prepear started by using their social media accounts to bring awareness to what was going on. They posted details of the dispute on Facebook and Instagram where they have thousands of followers. Prepear also started an online petition, to bring some additional attention to Apple’s attack. The petition went semi-viral, eventually garnering several hundred thousand signatures. See the petition here.
Basically, Prepear created an embarrassing situation where Apple was revealed as a trademark bully and, with so many people weighing in on the dispute, Apple eventually decided to back down. To settle the dispute, Prepear agreed to modify their logo and Apple agreed to the change. Here is the original Prepear logo and the new Prepear logo, after the change, compared side-by-side.
See the difference? Yeah. Not so much. Basically, to create the new logo, one curved line was changed to a straight line and Apple said that was OK. From my perspective, Apple was just trying to get out of this mess and save a little face if they could.
Here is a more complete recap of the Apple v. Prepear situation.
So, What Does All of This Mean to Me?
With a basic understanding of what trademark bullying looks like in place, here are a few things to keep in mind if you are ever accused of trademark infringement. Hopefully you won’t run into this problem, but if you do you’ll definitely want to have a game plan in place.
- Get legal help so that you understand your options and don’t wait. An experienced trademark attorney will be able to help you understand whether or not you’re actually infringing a trademark or just being attacked by a trademark bully. This is important because you need to be well grounded in the law before you make any decisions.
- Decide if you have the stomach (and pocketbook) for the fight. If you are in for a battle, buckle up and take your vitamins. Trademark infringement battles are not cheap and can take a significant amount of time. You could easily spend thousands or tens of thousands of dollars and months if not years in a trademark dispute. It’s not fun and will be your constant companion for quite some time.
- Think about going public with the dispute. As in the Prepear and Apple case, sometimes the court of public opinion can be used to swing things in your favor, especially if you are the little guy going up against a bigger company. Prepear exposed Apple to the public view in a very unfavorable light. Companies care about public perception so if you engage in this battle, see if it would help you to use social media, local news outlets, and other channels to shine the light on a trademark bully. It may be enough to turn the tide.
Stayed tuned. There will be at least one more installment of “Don’t Be A Bully” in my next blog post. I have a more personal story to share about a trademark dispute that is going on right now.
Disclaimer – Yes, I’m a lawyer, but I’m not your lawyer. All information in this post is provided for educational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice for any specific person or specific situation.
Remember – Be Smart. Be Legal.