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Apple, Woolworths in Australian trademark dispute, media in hysterically confused panic

Nilay Patel
10.05.09
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Oh boy. So if you haven't already seen some news on this, Apple's opposing the formal registration of the Australian grocery store Woolworths' logo, pictured above. We'll be honest: we saw this story when it was first reported last night by The Age, and we passed on it. Why? Because while we're not experts in Australian trademark law, we happen to have an ex-US trademark attorney on staff (cough), and the Australian system is similar enough to the US system that a simple notice of opposition just isn't that interesting. Here's what's really going on, outside of the sad media frenzy that surrounds anything Apple does: in both the US and Australian systems, a trademark registration is applied for with the appropriate federal agency -- the USPTO, or, in this case, IP Australia. After a period of review by that office for eligibility, it's then published for other companies to review and potentially oppose because it would cause confusion with their own marks. This is the fundamental essence of the trademark process, and every company with a major mark goes through it several times a year -- it's not a lawsuit, and there's no judge or jury, just the trademark examiner. Sure, there are some potentially meaningful and expensive consequences, but filing and responding to oppositions is something that any trademark attorney does quite frequently, and it's not like Apple's aggressively suing anyone here. It's just part of the process.

We'd also like to note that all these stories today have but a single source, and that Apple actually filed their notice of opposition in March but no one noticed until Woolworths talked to The Age. If we had to bet we'd say this is a tactical move by Woolworth's PR team to churn public opinion before a decision is issued -- and if it is, well, congratulations to them, because it certainly looks to us like the reality of this story has been totally overshadowed by the second, slightly more fictional story the tech media would like to tell. Sure, it'll be big news if Apple's opposition is successful and Woolworths registration is denied -- and we'll obviously cover it if it happens -- but chances are that Woolworths and Apple's highly-paid attorneys are going to quietly go through the trademark process and come out with an agreement, and we'll never hear about this again. Until the next time everyone gets this story wrong.

Update: Oh, and just to make this perfectly clear, Woolworths' application covers "Retailing and wholesaling services including... electronic stores," so there's definitely overlap here.

Update 2: You know, we've actually covered this exact same territory with Apple in the past -- will anyone ever learn?

Read - Original story in The Age
Read - Woolworths trademark filing 1258297
Read - Woolworths trademark filing 1258298


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