Trademark rivalry between Apple Computers and Beatles company Apple Corps re-emerged in court today in a clash over the computer giant’s iTunes online music store.
London-based Apple Corps, owned by Sir Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and the widows of John Lennon and George Harrison, is suing the United States computer company for allegedly breaching the terms of a 1991 peace pact signed after a long-running multi-million pound trademark war.
ple Corps claims that the use of the Apple name and logo to promote music products through the iTunes facility – which enables computer users to download and save thousands of pre-recorded songs from the Internet – is not allowed under the 1991 agreement.
At a preliminary hearing in the High Court in London, San Francisco-based Apple Computers asked Mr Justice Mann to rule that the case should be heard in California, where the courts are already dealing with the issues involved.
ple Corps argues that the trial should be in Britain.
At the start of the jurisdiction dispute, Mr Justice Mann confessed that he owned an Apple iPod and asked whether that disqualified him from hearing the case.
Lord Grabiner QC, for Apple Computers, said he was delighted to hear the judge had an iPod and added: “We would perhaps have sent you one free if that would not have been improper.”
The judge heard that, at present, iTunes was only available to Apple users in the US, but its introduction to Europe was imminent.
The service, launched in the US last April, has been welcomed by record companies generally because computer users pay a fee – around 62p a go – to access songs, in contrast to “free for all” systems.
Lord Grabiner said Apple Computers contended that under the 1991 agreement it was granted exclusive rights to use the name in relation to data transmission services, even if that data included material – ie music – which was within Apple Corps’s “field of use”.
He accused Apple Corps of “attempting to frustrate our position or business conduct or to extract money from us because of the success and innovative qualities of our product”.
The hearing, set for up to three days, continues tomorrow.