The Beatles Prevail in Trademark Dispute Over 'Beatle' Wheelchair

The Beatles - Portrait - P - 1964
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Apple Corps, Ltd., the company set up by the members of The Beatles, has succeeded in preventing a Dutch manufacturer from selling a "Beatle" wheelchair.

On Thursday, the European Union's Court of Justice ruled in a dispute over You-Q BV's attempts to trademark "Beatle," finding that it isn't inconceivable that consumers would be led to transfer in their minds a Beatle wheelchair with the goodwill of The Beatles, whose image is "even after 50 years of existence, still synonymous with youth and a certain counter-culture of the 1960s, an image which is still positive and which could specifically benefit the goods covered by the mark applied for."

The Dutch company submitted its application in 2004, asking for trademark dominion over the mark "Beatle" for various vehicles "by air, land or water."

That immediately brought an opposition by Apple Corps (not to be confused with the giant American company), which had previously trademarked "Beatles" for a wide range of goods and services, including keychains, nautical equipment, sunglasses, coasters, money clips, furniture, combs, sponges, clothing, Christmas crackers and pretty much everything else across the universe.

You-Q amended its trademark claims in 2005 to merely include wheelchairs and related products, but that wasn't a ticket to ride.

In 2009, an examiner determined that the applicant hadn't established the dissimilarity between its mark and Apple Corps' mark. The case then went before an appeals board, which noted the fame of The Beatles and that it was not altogether inconceivable that an association could be made between the two marks. But You-Q would not let it be.

So the Beatles vs. Beatle dispute was appealed up to the Court of Justice, which has denied You-Q a second time.

The wheelchair company asserted that the appeals board considered the potential confusion among the public generally, when the more pertinent issue would be whether a specific audience -- those who need wheelchairs -- would be confused. However, "those two sections of the public overlap, since the public at large also encompasses the specialist public," says the European Court in its decision to declare the end.

You-Q dared to challenge the strength of the reputation of The Beatles' marks, but the Court of Justice says the band continues to sell, with nearly 30 million records moved in the 10 years prior to the Dutch company's trademark application. Plus, Apple Corps continues to use and license its famous mark, including on "model London taxis and double-decker buses as well as yellow submarines."


Twitter: @eriqgardner