03 May 2005

Shere Khan Seeks Intervenor Status

Last week, just prior to the much-anticipated release of "Tiger", the next-generation version of the Apple operating system, online technology retailer TigerDirect sued Apple alleging that Apple's Tiger-related media campaign has diluted and damaged TigerDirect's trademarks:
The online retailer also accused Apple of deceptive and unfair trade practices in the lawsuit, filed today in federal court in Miami, Florida, Bloomberg said.

"Apple Computer has created and launched a nationwide media blitz led by Steven Jobs, overwhelming the computer world with a sea of Tiger references," Tiger Direct's attorneys wrote in the lawsuit.

. . . .

The retailer said Apple's use of the name "is causing confusion, mistake and deception among the general purchasing public."

At the root of the issue appears to internet search results. Tiger Direct contends that Apple's use of the name has adversely affected its ranking amongst the Internet's largest search engines, Google and Yahoo, bumping the company from its usual spot in the first three results.

The text of the complaint does not yet appear to be available online, but a preliminary injunction hearing was reportedly set for today. I've not read of any result from that hearing (if it did in fact take place), but I'm going to go out on a limb right now and predict that TigerDirect will have a tough time prevailing.

"Tiger" has long been a popular trademark name. A quick search of the Patent and Trademark Office's Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS) turns up nearly 700 live applications and registered marks for varied "Tiger" items from roach spray (registered by Louisiana Chemical USA, Inc.) to "armed military helicopters used only for combat, training and related military operations" (registered by Eurocopter France Corporation) to anything not nailed-down onto which Tiger Woods can put his name. A "Tiger" trademark for ale was registered by C. Schmidt and Sons, Inc. (and now owned by Asia Pacific Breweries, Ltd.) and first used in commerce in 1876. The Detroit Tigers have been around since the American League began in 1901, although no one's heard of them since 1984.

Even when you consider only the field of computer software, at least three software-related "Tiger" trademarks have been registered -- Sungard eProcess Intelligence, Inc. registered the mark for "computer software for use in the banking industry, for preparing and tracking letters of credit, trade transactions and payments" in 1996; Intelligent Applications Limited (UK) registered it for "computer software for use in the [sic] controlling, monitoring and performing fault diagnostics in relation to gas, electrical, oil and nuclear power systems and plants, gas turbines, steam turbines, power generators, and aviation engines" in 2000; and Catalpa Research, Inc. registered "Tiger" for "computer software used to generate numerical grids for turbomachinery designs" in 2001. I'll venture that any of those trademark owners probably would have a stronger case against Apple than does TigerDirect.

Although the nefarious Steven Jobs is probably not quaking in his Bruno Maglis, Apple's salvation may well be at hand nonetheless, at least according to Slashdot and Toronto's The Globe and Mail:
"This lawsuit is a load of codswallop," said Mr. [Robert F.] Young. "Nobody and no company should have the exclusive use of the word 'tiger.'"

Mr. Young has offered to license the Hamilton Tiger-Cats' historical use of the word Tiger to Apple free of charge. The Hamilton Tigers Football Club, established in 1869, continued to be known as the Tigers (with its colours of yellow and black) until 1950, when the Tigers merged with the Hamilton Wildcats to become the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

"136 years ago we were called The Tigers," Mr. Young said. "If anyone owns the exclusive rights to the word "tiger" with that much history and tradition, it's gotta be us."

This would all be entertaining enough even without noting that Mr. Young made his fortune not in the highly-lucrative world of Canadian football, but as a founder of Linux powerhouse Red Hat. When you've managed to align the forces of Linux and the forces of Macintosh against you and your name is not Bill Gates, that's really quite an accomplishment.

Expect Apple to file its Motion for Declaration of Codswallop before the end of the week.

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