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i Spy With My Little i - Apple and its Naming Game

Adding to its diverse portfolio of gadgetry, Apple is rumoured to be releasing a television made to the same slick, high-spec standards as its existing range of devices: in fact, it is said to look like a "giant iPad." So far, so great. But the dilemma facing Apple is whether the mega corporation will brand its new product consistently with its other famous devices such as the iPhone and iPad.

British consumers will of course recognise "iTV" as an acronym for Independent Television, otherwise known as terrestrial Channel 3 in the UK. The hurdle for Apple is that ITV will claim registered rights protection within the UK since 1996 and this will effectively hinder Apple's desire for consistent branding. ITV may well have also extended its protection to international territories as it has done by obtaining EU-wide protection since the turn of the century.

According to Googlefight it is a draw: ITV and iTV each have 5,080,000 hits, which is probably not surprising as it is effectively the same brand, the only difference being Apple's possible preference for its new interactive television to be with a small 'i.' The question is, will Apple try to follow in the footsteps of Tang Yanyan (a Liverpool-based entrepreneur) and make use of the iTV brand despite ITV's registered rights and longstanding prior rights? Tang applied for a series of marks including 'iTV' in 2011 but is likely to have received a rather sharp rebuke from ITV's lawyers, prompting the abandonment of the application.

Apple may be inclined to simply roll the dice and attempt at distinguishing its iTV product from those that ITV provide. After all, will consumers not readily distinguish between the cool sleek i television and its features from that of the ITV television network company? Surely 'TV' is simply generic and descriptive of television, whilst 'i' in lower case is more easily associated by consumers as part of Apple's branding? However, it is equally a risk that in any event such a manoeuvre for Apple could leave it rosy-cheeked, if in fact the public start to perceive the company as some evil corporate bully. There is nothing like bad publicity to bruise your brand.

A number of options will be open for Apple, including developing a wholly new "i" brand, or simply continuing its use of the current ‘AppleTV’ brand. Alternatively, it cannot be ruled out that Apple may be looking for a broadcasting platform and a purchase of the company ITV Network Limited could resolve any branding issue. As long as Apple ensures that it is acquiring the correct rights owner then its problem is solved: Apple already faces a serious hiccup with its failed attempt to acquire the iPad trade mark in Asia. Another option for Apple is to induce ITV into a suitable co-existence agreement, a strategy previously employed when dealing with the Beatles' music label Apple Corps.

Despite such commercial options, it should be noted that ITV may have already written to Apple to discourage its advances into ‘iTV’ brand territory, possibly threatening the Silicon Valley company with legal action should it decide to proceed. Now that Apple has released AppleTV, a digital media receiver which allows users to stream programmes from the iTunes store, YouTube, Netflix and other online forums, it has progressed so far into the television market that it will be interesting to see which route it will take once the long-awaited Apple i-television is released.

Over the years Apple has generated a great deal of experience with the process of brand management and acquisition. Considering the possibility of ITV’s warning, Apple’s determination may yet be tested. Googlefight may well have this contest down as a draw, but in the end and as Apple Corps discovered: there can be only ("i") one.


These notes have been prepared for the purpose of an article only. They should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice.

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