I have to admit that when I read Michelle Maisto’s story in eWEEK about Apple’s fight with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to get a trademark for iPad Mini, my first thoughts weren’t about Apple but instead about Austin Powers. I kept wondering if this was an attempt to prevent Dr. Evil’s even more malignant protégé Mini Me from using his name.
After all, Apple has tried strange intellectual property tricks in the past, such as trying to pass off a drawing of a rectangle as an invention, or trying to claim that only Apple could have an app store. But the more I thought about this, the more that obviously wasn’t the intent. BMW has been selling a car called the “Mini” for years, and it’s pretty clear that BMW and all of the other products with “mini” attached to their name couldn’t become the subjects of trademark suits because of this.
So obviously, Apple’s motivation for trying to trademark the name of the iPad Mini wasn’t to get control of the word “mini.” But that doesn’t mean that the USPTO wasn’t worried about that. This would explain the requirement for a disclaimer for the iPad Mini that says that that particular use of the word “mini” applies on to the iPad trademark and not to anything else.
The name “iPad Mini” is certainly consistent with previous practices by Apple. Apple also sells a Mac Mini and it used to sell an iPod Mini, which is in fact the first iPod I ever owned. In that sense, I think it’s possible to read too much into the use of the descriptor, “Mini” when referring to Apple products. There’s also no reason to assume that Apple was attempting to prevent anyone else from using the term, if only because it would have already done so years ago.
In fact, considering the trouble that Apple is having trying to trademark the name “iPad” and even “iPhone,” it’s a smart move. If Apple can trademark the full term, even with the disclaimer in the U.S., then international trademark conventions will give it at least some protection elsewhere. Right now that’s a problem for Apple, which has found that the iPad name was already in use outside the United States before Apple started using it, and that the term “iPhone” was in use in Brazil long before Apple introduced the first of its products with that name.