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- A British court has ruled in favor of an American computer giant in its long-running legal battle with Apple Corps, Ltd.
, a company the Beatles established in the 1960s to protect their commercial interests.
Judge Edward Mann ruled that Apple Computer, Inc.
is entitled to use the apple logo on its iTunes Music Store, rejecting a suit filed by Apple Corps. The dispute, which centered on a 1991 agreement, offers nothing new of any legal significance in the area of trademark law, according to a Wisconsin attorney.
Apple Corps was started by the Beatles in 1968 and is still owned by Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, the widow of John Lennon, and the estate of George Harrison. The British firm uses a shiny green apple as its logo, while Apple Computer has a cartoon-like apple with a bite taken out.
The 1991 agreement ended previous litigation over the logo. Apple Computer told the court that it paid the Beatles' company $26.5 million as part of the out-of-court settlement, and in return it had received a considerably expanded field of use. Apple Computer's iPods were introduced in October 2001, and the iTunes music store opened in the United States in April 2003. It now is available in Europe, Australia, Japan, and Canada.
During the hearing, lawyers for each side fought over advertisements for iTunes featuring musical acts U2, Eminem, and Coldplay - ads which used the logo. Apple Corps argued that the U.S. company had broken the agreement in which each pledged not to enter into the other's field of business. Lawyers for Apple Computer countered that it was conducting its business legally and that music fans are smart enough to tell the difference between the logos.
Mann, who admitted to owning an iPod, ruled that Apple Computer used the fruit logo in association with the store, not the music, and therefore did not breach the agreement. "I conclude that the use of the apple logo... does not suggest a relevant connection with the creative work," Mann said in a written opinion. "I think that the use of the Apple logo is a fair and reasonable use of the mark in connection with the service, which does not go further and unfairly or unreasonably suggest an additional association with the creative works themselves."
Attorney Rob Petershack, a partner with Michael Best & Friedrich
, said a settlement agreement is a way to resolve a lawsuit, but it's also a contract. "It was in front of the English courts, essentially, and it appears as though the judge there ruled that the Apple fruit logo was used only in connection with the store and not the music, and thus didn't breach the agreement," Petershack said. "There's nothing that I can see that is extraordinarily unusual that would be of wider application than just to this particular suit."
Neil Aspinall, manager of Apple Corps, said the ruling would be appealed. "We felt that during the course of the trial we clearly demonstrated just how extensively Apple Computer has broken the agreement," he said in a statement.