August 2017. Shanghai entrepreneur Jinguo Lin has been refused a European trademark registration for his Apple Car footwell mats. The decision was recently issued by the Opposition Division of the European Trademark Office EUIPO in a case brought by Apple.
Apple uses its trademark for phones and tablets, but not for footwell mats, surely?
Not only does the computer giant own trademark rights to the Apple brand for its own well-known products and services (such as phones and tablets), it also has registrations for nearly all other potential products and services, including footwell mats (class 27).
It’s a simple way for Apple to sweep the market clean of other potential Apple brands, including those applied for products in which Apple effectively has no real interest. After all, Apple isn’t using its trademark for footwell mats in cars, nor is it likely to have any plans to do so.
The ruling shows that a defensive trademark registration works well. There’s one proviso, however. If you want to retain ownership of a trademark, you must use it within five years after registering it. If you don’t, it could be revoked based on non-use. Apple’s defensive registration dates from 2013, so by 2018 its trademark registration for car mats will become vulnerable unless Apple actually starts selling car mats. Presumably, though, it will simply file a new application and renew its rights to all products (without using them) for a further five years.