Apple takes Swatch to court

Apple is probably still a little bitter about losing a legal battle with Swatch over the right to use the word “iWatch” for its smartwatch. 

Most people probably expected the new Apple product to be called iWatch when it was first launched, but it was the grand old watchmaking industry of Switzerland which put a stop to that idea.

The product was eventually launched as simply “Apple Watch” after Swatch took the tech giant to court to protect its own claim to iWatch.

Apple, of course, has enough money to buy the exclusive global rights to all words in all languages, or at least a very large number of them, and then buy Switzerland from its petty cash budget.

But it’s not legally possible to buy English words and letters, or Switzerland for that matter… or maybe it is.

In any case, a combination of words can be copyrighted and used exclusively by the company which owns it in specific contexts.

Famous corporate slogans include:

  • Vorsprung durch Technik – Audi
  • The ultimate driving machine – BMW
  • Beanz meanz Heinz – Heinz
  • Think outside the bun – Taco Bell
  • Just do it – Nike

Apple bought the right to use “Think Different” during a time when Steve Jobs was still obsessed with IBM, which had a simple slogan: “Think”.

But now it seems Apple is unhappy with Swatch’s apparent play on the Apple slogan, and is taking it to court.

In comments reported on MacRumours.com, Swatch CEO Nick Hayek claims the “Tick Different” slogan has its origins in an 80s Swatch campaign that used the phrase “Always different, always new”, and says that any similarity with Apple is purely coincidental.

The words “Yeah, right” might make a good slogan for some company somewhere.

The Swatch timepiece in question, the one used in the “Tick Different” campaign, is significant because it incorporates near-field communications technology to enable electronic payments, in partnership with Visa.

Traditional watchmakers are increasingly realising that, as the younger generations turn away from mechanical watches in favour of smartwatches, they have an opportunity to incorporate computer technology into their products and find new markets and maintain or even grow their revenues.

Legal arguments are often complicated, with so many sides to the same issue, and it may be sub judice to talk about them now, but maybe it’s ok because the court is not yet in session or something.

Anyway, let’s consider the facts, as we know them, chronologically:

  1. Under Jobs, Apple launched the iPod, then iMac and other products, such as iCloud – and this is probably the first time any company used “i” as a prefix
  2. Swatch – probably subsequently – launches the iWatch, becoming one of many companies to use the “i” prefix
  3. Apple files for the iWatch trademark, probably not knowing that it was owned by Swatch in some countries
  4. A UK court rules that Swatch owns the iWatch trademark and therefore Apple cannot use it
  5. Tech giant then launches its product as Apple Watch
  6. Tech giant still probably slightly miffed about its path to global domination of all markets encumbered by a bunch of Swiss watchmakers
  7. Now, Apple tries to get back at the olde worlde timepiece geeks by launching a legal action over the similarity between Swatch’s “Tick Different” slogan and its own “Think Different” slogan – but would this have happened if Swatch hadn’t stopped Apple using the iWatch name?

And while you may think that Apple has so much power and money that no company on Earth could stand in its way, Swatch is actually no minnow.

In fact, according to StatisticBrain.com, the Swatch Group is the world’s top watchmaker, with almost 20 per cent of the global market share.

The number of watches sold annually worldwide is said to be approximately 1.2 billion.

Not only that, most of the top 10 watchmakers in the world are Swiss companies. So, not only is Swatch a powerful company in its own right, it’s backed by the very powerful watchmaking industry of Switzerland.

And while Apple may have been through a few existential battles of its own in its corporate history, the entire Swiss watchmaking industry nearly went bankrupt when Japan started making cheap, accurate quartz watches en masse in the 1970s and 80s.

Swatch was actually a collective response to the threat from Japan.

So it will be interesting to see if Apple pursues its feud with Swatch, particularly as it seems to already have ongoing legal entanglements with other companies, such as Samsung and lately Qualcomm.

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