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Apple’s iPad Trademark Is Not in Danger

Coke adWhen I was an editor, I used to regularly receive form letters from corporate lawyers complaining about the use of “xerox” to describe copying or, my favorite, “realtor” rather than “Realtor®.” I threw them away, and never heard anything further. The game was simple: Companies that own value trademarks must defend their claims of exclusive use, and these letters, meant to be ignored, were part of the process.

So I was a bit startled by a silly Associated Press story suggesting that Apple might be in danger of losing its iPad trademark as people come to use “iPad” as a generic term for a tablet. This is not going to happen. For one thing, people don’t seem to be using iPad as a generic term for a tablet. They call iPads iPads, Kindles Kindles, and Nooks Nooks. There isn’t much reason to call anything else anything. (The same seems to be true for iPods after 10 years. Usually when people take about an iPod, they are referring to a an Apple product.)

About the only way to lose a trademark is to fail to make an effort to defend it. Company’s with very valuable trademarks go to great lengths to defend them. Coca-Cola® is known to send inspector to a restaurants where they order a Coke® and send it back to a lab to make sure It’s The Real Thing (trademark #78339744). Disney has gone after amateur Winnie-the-Pooh® sewing patterns not out of insane greed but because of a need to show vigilance. It is very rare these days for a company to lose a trademark to generic use; Wikipedia has a list of them and the most recent case seems to involve the yo-yo, in 1965.

Apple has earned a reputation  as a ferocious defender of its intellectual property. It’s not about to lose iPad, iPhone, iMac, or i-anything else.

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Steve Wildstrom

Steve Wildstrom is veteran technology reporter, writer, and analyst based in the Washington, D.C. area. He created and wrote BusinessWeek’s Technology & You column for 15 years. Since leaving BusinessWeek in the fall of 2009, he has written his own blog, Wildstrom on Tech and has contributed to corporate blogs, including those of Cisco and AMD and also consults for major technology companies.

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