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Apple and Fujitsu inevitably caught up in iPad trademark dispute

Nilay Patel
01.28.10
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Well, here we go again. Apple might have stolen all the headlines yesterday with the iPad, but as we've already noted, that name has been in dispute since September -- and it doesn't look like Fujitsu, which has been selling its own iPad since 2002, is going to back down. "It's our understanding that the name is ours," Fujitsu PR director Masahiro Yamane told the New York Times. Maybe, but it's not quite that simple. Here's the deal: Fujitsu applied for the "iPad" mark in 2003, specifically covering handheld devices used in retail. (The Fujitsu iPad is a $2,000 Windows CE point-of-sale device.) Along the way, the application got bogged down because a company called Mag-Tek had already registered IPAD for its line of PIN-entry keypads, and Fujitsu's application was listed as "abandoned" in April of 2009. The notice of abandonment apparently woke someone at Fujitsu up, because the company then asked the Trademark Office to re-open the application, arguing that Mag-Tek's IPAD had nothing to do with the Fujitsu iPad. The USPTO agreed, re-opened the application, and the process continued until September, when the iPad application was published so other trademark holders could oppose registration. That's when Apple signaled that it wasn't so happy about things -- and filed its own "iPad" trademark application using a shell company called "IP Application Development."

Phew -- still with us? That leaves us at now, with Mag-Tek selling the IPAD under a valid, registered trademark, Fujitsu selling an iPad with a pending trademark application, and Apple sucking all the air out of the room with the launch of the iPad and no US trademark at all. We'll be honest: we'd always simply discounted rumors Apple would call it the iPad, because this is kind of a mess. Apple can't just take "iPad" from Fujitsu because it really wants the name -- it's likely going to have to argue that "iPad" is confusingly similar to "iPod," while still trying to register "iPad" on its own and telling the Trademark Office that it won't be confusing to people looking for the Mag-Tek device, or the Siemens "iPad" motor trademark, or potentially even Coconut Grove's trademarked iPad bras. Of course, all these problems can be solved with the direct application of cash and some nice ambient media attention, so it's likely we'll see some friendly joint PR from Apple and Fujitsu along with an agreement to share the name sometime before Apple's formal opposition is due on February 28. That's pretty much what happened when Apple bit the "iPhone" name from Cisco, anyway. But still -- why can't Apple ever learn to have these conversations ahead of time?

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