Beatles' Apple sues computer Apple

The Beatles' record company, Apple Corps, has filed a trademark action alleging that Apple Computer violated a 1991 agreement by launching its iTunes online downloadable music store. The suit seeks an injunction to enforce the agreement, as well as monetary damages for the alleged breach.

Geoff Baker, spokesman for Apple Corps, confirmed that the suit was filed two months ago in the High Court in London. According to an Apple Corps statement:

"Specifically, [the] complaint is made over the use by Apple Computer of the word 'apple' and apple logos in conjunction with its new application for downloading pre-recorded music from the Internet."

Steve Jobs is said to have selected the name Apple for his company in part as a tribute to the Beatles, but in 1981 the Beatles sued Apple Computer over its use of the name. The parties settled the case for an undisclosed amount, with Apple Computer agreeing to use the Apple name only in relation to computer products.

Ten years later the Beatles sued Apple Computer again, alleging it had violated the 1981 settlement agreement by using its apple logo on music-synthesizing products. That lawsuit was settled, again with an undisclosed payment to the Beatles. It is this 1991 agreement that is the focus of the most recent dispute.

It is difficult to imagine that consumers would confuse iTunes with the Beatles' company, so an interpretation of the 1991 agreement will be critical to the resolution of this dispute. In an interesting twist, the court will have to balance trademark interests and contract provisions - in this case, the two may be at odds with one another.

Douglas Wood and Linda Goldstein, Hall Dickler Kent Goldstein & Wood LLP, New York

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