Apple iPad Mini Trademark Fight May Make Sense After All

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2013-04-08 Print this article Print

NEWS ANALYSIS: Apple’s attempt to trademark the term “iPad Mini” may be what keeps its product names alive in a world where most catchy names are already in use.

The concern by the USPTO is understandable. Apple has been very aggressive in defending its patent and trademark turf for years, and in a number of cases its claims were dubious at best. But it doesn’t appear that this is one of those cases. Instead it just seems to be a way for Apple to protect the name.

But that leads to other questions. If Apple keeps running into problems with the names of its products, does this mean that Apple isn’t doing a very good job of searching out trademarks before it starts using them? Or more cynically, does it mean that Apple has simply decided to start patenting everything it can find, valid or not and let the courts sort it out? Likewise has the company simply decided to pick names it likes and to dare existing trademark holders to do something about it?

There’s certainly every reason to believe that Apple doesn’t try too hard to search for potential patent or trademark conflicts. It is, after all, the 800-pound gorilla in the tech business, and to some extent it can do what it wants to do. But even 800-pound gorillas can get sued by smaller creatures, sometimes just because they’re Apple. Likewise, Apple’s trademarks get filed in other countries before Apple has a chance to file everywhere.

Because of this guerrilla war on intellectual property, Apple also has a responsibility to protect its legitimate property. That means that if Apple names its small tablet the iPad Mini, it should be able to protect the name and there’s no reason for the USPTO to refuse to do it, even given the company’s checkered past in that area.

Apple isn’t completely out of the woods regarding its trademark application. The USPTO is requiring Apple to agree to the use of a disclaimer specified by the trademark office stating that it wasn’t asserting an exclusive right to use the word “mini” apart from the iPad tablet.

But assuming that Apple agrees that it’s not making any exclusive claim to the word “mini” except as it applies to the iPad, then the USPTO may decide to let it happen. Apple has 6 months to respond to the USPTO disclaimer requirement, or the agency will reinstate its refusal to grant the trademark. If I had to guess, I think Apple will agree to the disclaimer. At least it gets its trademark that way


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