The media is reporting a settlement in the long-running trademark dispute between Apple Inc. (of iPod fame) and Apple Corps. (of Beatles fame). The Fab Four’s corporate alter ego had objected to the computer-maker’s increasing move into music, alleging that the two parties’ 1991 settlement of a previous lawsuit reserved that turf for Lennon & McCartney, not Jobs & Wozniak. The computer company had won the most recent round of litigation last May in England, but the lawyers for the lads from Liverpool had appealed that ruling. The general assumption seems to be that, even if the folks at the California-based Apple thought they were going to win the appeal too, they had a more important goal in mind: finally getting the Beatles onto iTunes! The press release announcing the settlement hints as much.
As I commented back in May, the judge then offered a good interpretation of the language in that old settlement, in which the Beatles may have given up too much ground (although they did get a reported $30 million out of it too). But more generally, the idea of demarcating clear lines between computers and other electronic devices and software and content has become increasingly archaic since 1991. Indeed, only last month Apple Computers officially became Apple Inc., since so much of its future now lies with products like the iPod, iPhone, and Apple TV, not the stuff with keyboards attached to CPUs. The whole story is a good warning for anyone drafting trademark settlements today: anticipate the unanticipated when it comes to technological change.