This week I sat in London’s High Court as the latest round in the 25-year battle between Apple Corps, the Beatles’ music company, and Apple Computer ufolded.
During the hearing the court was told that Apple Computer admitted taking its name from the former. So if Apple lose this case will it mean the death of the Apple Computer name or that Steve Jobs could get slugged a licence fee for the use of the name.
As one wag said during a recess. “If Apple Computer lose this case Apple Corp could well take guidance from Apple Computer’s recent 17pin iPod socket licence fee as guidance”. That is 10% of all revenue.
The spat over names blew up over the computer company’s use of the name and logo on its iTunes music store. In a witness statement Neil Aspinall, the Beatles’ former road manager who now runs Apple Corps, maintains that Steve Jobs, co-founder and chief executive of Apple Computer, once told him that the US company had actually been named after Apple Corps, the Beatles’ music company.
Mr Aspinall said he could not remember exactly when the conversation took place. But it happened during discussions on a proposal for a website proposal aimed at helping to promote The Beatles “1” album. That was released six years ago.
“I have enjoyed good relations with Mr Jobs over the years, and I was not surprised that he told me this,” Mr Aspinall told the court.
Mr Aspinall’s account is at odds with some of the perceived wisdom. According to the Wikipedia website, for example, Apple was named for Mr Jobs’ favourite fruit “and/or for the time he worked at an apple orchard”. Owen Linzmayer, author of the corporate biography Apple Confidential 2.0, also maintains that Mr Jobs thought up the name when he was still involved with friends who ran a commune-type farm in Oregon
In his witness statement, Mr Aspinall went on to suggest that Mr Jobs might have been trying to head off a dispute with the Beatles music company by offering $1m for the name Apple Records shortly before he launched the iTunes Music Store in 2003.
He said that he was “very surprised” when the iTunes Music Stores was launched in April that year “coupled with a major marketing campaign under the name ‘Applemusic.com’ and the very substantial use being made of the apple name and logo since in connection with iTunes”.
After their last lengthy bout of litigation in 1991, the two companies hammered out a complex trademark agreement, governing who could use the apple mark in what circumstances. But in the current case, Apple Corps claims that the computer company has breached this by effectively “selling music” through its iTunes music store.