• Apple Computer Wins Logo Battle
  • May 19, 2006
  • Law Firm: Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP - Los Angeles Office
  • Britain's High Court handed a victory to Apple Computer in its long battle with the Beatles over use of the apple logo.

    On May 8, 2006, the judge dismissed the claim by the band's record label, Apple Corps, that Apple Computer's well-known logo from its iTunes music store infringes on the band's Granny Smith logo.

    The companies have been fighting over the apple symbol for decades. In 1991, after 100 days in court, they signed what was supposed to be a definitive agreement on use of the trademark. Apple Corps was given the right to use the apple for producing and selling music. Apple Computer got it for selling computers and computer software.

    Trouble resurfaced in 2003 when Apple Computer was signing up record labels to its new iTunes store, which sells music over the Internet. Apple Corps, which is owned by Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, John Lennon's widow Yoko Ono, and the estate of George Harrison, was asked to put the Beatles' songs on the service. It refused and sued Apple Computer for breach of contract, arguing the computer company had entered the music business.

    A one-week trial was held last month in London. In his ruling, Judge Edward Mann agreed with part of Apple Corps' argument. The record company has the exclusive right to use the logo for recorded music, the judgment said, even if sold in an intangible form like music downloads.

    Crucially, though, he ruled that an Apple logo on the iTunes music store doesn't appear "in connection with" music on the service and is used just to promote the store. That interpretation means that Apple Computer isn't applying the logo to music recordings, and therefore isn't in breach of the 1991 agreement. The judge dismissed the suit.

    Significance: The case demonstrates how even the most carefully crafted and heavily negotiated agreement may fail to cover every circumstance. In 1991, it's easy to imagine that Apple Computer had no expectation or plans to enter the music business. The battle may not be over, since Apple Corps has said that it will appeal the ruling.