Ap­ple bat­tles trade­mark sleuths bent on re­veal­ing gadget names

The Hamilton Spectator - - BUSINESS - MARK GUR­MAN

One of Ap­ple’s most fiercely guarded se­crets? The name of the next iPhone. It’s known that the de­vice will launch later this year, com­plete with a stain­less steel and glass body, a bet­ter screen and a speedy 3D sen­sor that rec­og­nizes your face. It may be called the iPhone X, to cel­e­brate the iconic prod­uct’s 10th an­niver­sary, or maybe just iPhone 8. But Tim Cook doesn’t want us to know for sure un­til he ut­ters the name on stage.

In re­cent years, Ap­ple-ob­sessed sleuths have man­aged to fer­ret out the names and de­tails of the com­pany’s prod­ucts by search­ing trade­mark of­fices around the world. But their chal­lenge has be­come ex­po­nen­tially harder thanks to a well-timed rule change at Ja­maica’s trade­mark of­fice and some clever ma­noeu­vring in Liecht­en­stein.

First, a lit­tle back­ground. Ap­ple has em­ployed var­i­ous tac­tics to keep its prod­uct names se­cret over the years. One is to sim­ply regis­ter the name via a Delaware shell com­pany. That’s what the com­pany did as it was pre­par­ing to launch the iPad in 2010. But the trade­mark was also filed in ma­jor re­gions like Asia, and by the time Steve Jobs un­veiled the iPad at a splashy event in San Francisco, the self-styled de­tec­tives had plas­tered the prod­uct’s name all over the web.

A more ef­fec­tive ap­proach also used by Google, Ama­zon and other tech com­pa­nies in­volves regis­ter­ing names in for­eign coun­tries with­out search­able trade­mark data­bases. The tac­tic lever­ages a rule in sec­tion 44(d) of the U.S. Trade­mark Act that lets com­pa­nies ap­ply for a trade­mark in one coun­try and re­ceive reg­is­tra­tion pri­or­ity in the U.S. if filed there within six months of the orig­i­nal, for­eign fil­ing date. Of the 177 coun­tries that com­ply with U.S. rules, 66 lack on­line trade­mark data­bases. Th­ese in­clude Trinidad and Tobago, Bar­ba­dos, Peru and Ja­maica. The lat­ter has be­come a favourite hid­ing place for com­pa­nies such as Ap­ple.

The Ja­maica In­tel­lec­tual Prop­erty Of­fice is housed in a mod­ern palm-flanked build­ing in the cap­i­tal, Kingston. Thirty-one peo­ple work there and at least 10 trade­mark searches are con­ducted each day, ac­cord­ing to the of­fice’s di­rec­tor Li­ly­claire Bel­lamy. The only way to con­duct searches is in-per­son, mean­ing sleuths need to fly to Ja­maica or hire a lo­cal trade­mark lawyer to search the of­fice’s computer sys­tem like an old-school li­brary. Searches are free; it costs 150 Ja­maican dol­lars ($1.17) to print out each page.

Last year, a Dublin-area at­tor­ney named Brian Con­roy, paid a lo­cal law firm hun­dreds of dol­lars to search the Ja­maica of­fice’s on­site com­put­ers — and hit a rich vein. Months be­fore Ap­ple’s Septem­ber and Oc­to­ber launch events last year, Con­roy pub­lished a list of trade­marks ap­plied for in Ja­maica. One pair of fil­ings, the “iPhone 7” and “iPhone 7 Plus,” were ob­vi­ously the next hand­set mod­els. Con­roy also pulled up less ob­vi­ous names like “AirPods” and “Touch Bar.” The AirPods ended up be­ing the name for Ap­ple’s new wire­less ear­phones, while the Touch Bar is the touch screen strip on the lat­est MacBook Pro key­boards.

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS FILE PHOTO

Ap­ple will launch a new iPhone later this year. What it will be called is a closely guarded se­cret.

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