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US court sides with jazz musician in Apple Music trademark dispute

By | Published on Tuesday 11 April 2023

Apple Music

A US appeals court last week sided with jazz musician Charles Bertini in a dispute over the Apple Music trademark.

Apple, of course, launched its music streaming service in 2015, going with the name Apple Music rather than some variation of its already established iTunes brand. With that decision made, the tech giant got about registering its new Apple Music brand with the US trademark registry.

However, Bertini had been staging shows in New York since the 1980s under the name Apple Jazz. He argued that if Apple was granted the Apple Music trademark – especially in the context of live music – that would cause consumer confusion.

And given he’d been using the Apple Jazz name since the 1980s, long before the launch of Apple Music or even the iTunes Store, he reckoned he had a stronger claim to the name.

It wasn’t the first trademark dispute involving Apple and another company using the Apple name in the music space. Because, back in the 2000s, there was the headline-grabbing bust up between Apple the tech firm and Apple Corps, the company set up by The Beatles in 1968.

But that dispute resulted in a mega-bucks settlement which saw Apple Inc buy the Apple Corps trademarks and then license them back to the Beatles company.

All of which was relevant in the Bertini dispute. Because Apple argued that – via its acquisition of the Apple Corps trademarks – it was the owner of music-centric Apple marks that go back to the late 1960s, long before the jazz musician started staging his New York shows.

On that basis, in 2021 the US Trademark Trial And Appeal Board sided with Apple and knocked back Bertini’s opposition to the tech giant’s trademark registration.

But Bertini appealed and last week a court sided with the musician and allowed him to block Apple’s bid to extend its Apple Music trademark into live performance.

That was on the basis that Apple Corps was in the business of recorded music, which is different to live music, so Apple Inc’s ownership of the earlier marks is irrelevant when it comes to the live performance element of the Apple Music registration.

Bertini’s legal rep – his brother James Bertini – told Reuters that they were both pleased with the latest ruling after a “long and difficult struggle”, adding: “Perhaps this decision will also help other small companies to protect their trademark rights”.