Here in Australia, the supermarket chain Woolworths has been freshening its look (and rebranding in some states from Safeway to Woolworths) over the last year, which includes a nice modern looking new logo. This new logo, which Woolworth have stated is a stylised “W” was submitted to IP Australia (the Australian Agency who looks after trademarks) for trademark registration in August last year. Apple has now objected to this trademark application.
On the face of it, this seems silly, but from a distance the two logo shapes are not dissimilar and Apple is not being ridiculous in this situation. While Woolworths has traditionally been a grocery supermarket chain (the largest in Australia and New Zealand), it is constantly expanding its range and increasingly selling and advertising electronic goods.
While it’s unlikely to start selling fully fledged computers in the near future, it already sells mobile phone packages & cards. Its not hard to imagine them selling small digital music players or smartphones. This is likely to bring them into a similar product space as Apple and thus it brings the situation into trademark territory. The sticking point is that Woolworth’s trademark application attempts to broadly mark any product Woolworth wants to sell in the future — which could be anything.
Its important to note that at this stage Apple has not taken any legal action. It is simply disputing Woolworth’s trademark application, which is a normal and necessary procedure within Australia’s trademark laws. Unlike copyright laws, to keep a trademark a company must make all efforts to pro-actively protect it. If a company does not protect its trademark and a likeness is then used by someone else for a long enough time, it is likely to lose it completely. Even if IP Australia ignores Apple’s dispute, Apple is now on record for protecting its trademark.