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Apple may currently be fighting various legal battles on multiple fronts, including a high-profile dispute with Epic Games, but it’s not too busy to wage a trademark war over a low-budget upcoming action comedy film called Apple-Man.
Apple in December filed an opposition with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office seeking to block Ukrainian director Vasyl Moskalenko’s trademark application for his indie project. The world’s most valuable company argues that viewers will mistakenly believe Apple-Man is associated with Apple and that the movie will dilute its brand.
“The Apple Marks are so famous and instantly recognizable that the similarities in Applicant’s Mark will overshadow any minor differences and cause the ordinary consumer to believe that Applicant is related to, affiliated with, or endorsed by Apple,” states the filing, which is embedded below. “Consumers are likely to assume, erroneously, that Applicant’s Mark is a further extension of the famous Apple brand.”
Apple-Man is a satire about a superhero who can levitate apples. It was crowdfunded through Kickstarter and raised roughly $120,000.
The movie was in post-production when Apple filed an opposition to Moskalenko’s trademark. Claiming a violation of the Lanham Act, Apple said that the trademark is intended to deceive consumers.
“Consumers encountering Applicant’s Mark are likely to associate the mark with Apple because it is highly similar to the APPLE Mark and overall creates a similar commercial impression,” writes Joseph Petersen, a partner at Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP representing Apple. “Indeed, Applicant’s Mark incorporates Apple’s famous APPLE mark in its entirety, merely adding the generic term ‘man.'”
Apple also argues the trademark, if granted, will “cause dilution of the distinctiveness of the famous Apple Marks by eroding consumers’ exclusive identification of the Apple Marks with Apple.”
Jeremy Eche of JPG Legal, who represents Moskalenko, argues “apple” isn’t a proprietary word and viewers won’t be misled by the movie.
“This is ridiculous,” he tells The Hollywood Reporter. “They really want to own the word ‘Apple’ in every industry.”
Eche contends Apple is a “trademark bully” exploiting the system.
“Because a company like Apple has hundreds of millions of dollars they can spend, they start these cases all the time against small business clients like mine no matter how bad their case is,” Eche says. “Just because they can spend $300,000 to see it through to the end and my client can’t justify that cost, Apple knows they’re probably going to win here.”
Prepear, a recipe and meal-planning app, agreed last year to change its pear logo to settle a trademark dispute with Apple. Apple opposed Prepear’s bid to be granted a pear trademark, arguing it was too similar to its own apple silhouette logo.
Jesse Saivar, an intellectual property attorney at Greenberg Glusker who’s not involved in the case, tells THR “no one can have exclusive right to a descriptive word.”
“If I’m trying to title something that refers to apples, how can I do that if I can’t use the word ‘apple’ in the title?” he posits. But, Saivar continues, “It gets complicated because [Moskalenko] wants to get involved in content and Apple is involved in the content world.”
Moskalenko in January indicated in a USPTO filing that he wants to settle the matter because he doesn’t have the resources to litigate the case. He’s still considering his options after settlement negotiations stalled, according to Eche.
Apple has not yet replied to a request for comment.
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