Apple and Harley's patent clash

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Ben Cope's picture
Submitted by Ben Cope on Tue, 27/11/2012 - 10:07

APPLE is one of the most high-tech companies in the world, on the bleeding edge of consumer technology and turning out ultra-modern gadgets for the style-conscious.

Harley-Davidson, on the face of it, couldn't be much more different. Sure, as a brand it's just as iconic and recognisable as Apple, but it's about heritage and tradition rather than the latest technology. So you'd have though the two companies couldn't be much further apart.

But it turns out that Apple, endlessly in the news over patent battles, has had to come to an arrangement with Harley to take on one of the firm's trademarks: Lightning.

The new generation iPhone and iPad both used Apple's much trumpeted 'Lightning' connector, but when it came to getting permission to use that name, the firm found that Harley already owned it – having marketed Buells under the same moniker. And while a plug socket and Buell would seem rather different, Harley also owned the rights to use the name on a wide range of other goods.

Apple also clearly wants to be able to use the word on lots of things, having filed two European trademark applications covering a range of things from model trains to fishing rods. Those goods also include helmets and 'motorcycle electrical connectors' – no doubt to allow iPhones to plug into bikes – and that, presumably, is where the Apple and Harley trademarks clashed.

Both firms are notoriously vigilant when it comes to their intellectual property. Harley, in the 1990s, legendarily tried to patent the sound of its 45 degree V-twin engines, and Apple has famously been granted a patent on rectangles with rounded corners...

According to the Trade Marks and Designs Registration Office of the European Union, the trademark was “partially transferred” from Harley to Apple on November 22 this year. Harley still owns the rights to the name for plenty of things, but has passed over some rights to Apple.

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