Apple must balance a fine line between generic use of the iPad name for tablets and continued dominance of the slate segment, experts have warned, as the company faces the possibility of the trademark being deemed generic. The name of the best-selling tablet is already associated by many consumers as a catch-all term for tablets in general, the AP writes, despite the best efforts of Android slate manufacturers and others. However, while Apple’s value hasn’t been hurt by the sales success of the three generations of iPad, it could also potentially lose control of the name itself should courts decide it has too deeply entered the public lexicon.
The internal battle between publicity – leading to potential consumers walking in to stores and asking for an “iPad” when perhaps they simply mean a tablet – and branding control is a common one in companies with successful products, trademark lawyers point out. Only an estimated 5-percent of US brands actually go from being registered trademarks to being deemed generic, but the impact on Apple could be significant.
Still, it’s a line Apple has been forced to tread previously, given the huge impact the company’s iPod had on the MP3 player market a decade ago. It managed to keep hold of the iPod trademark despite the term becoming widespread shorthand for the personal media player segment.
“Apple is actually pretty good at this,” Jessica Litman, professor of copyright law at the University of Michigan Law School says. “It’s able to skate pretty close to the generics line while making it very clear the name is a trademark of the Apple version of this general category.”
Nonetheless, Apple is under fire over its use of iPad already, with a high-profile lawsuit with Chinese firm Proview underway. The company claims to still own the trademark in China, whereas Apple insists the rights were sold to it by a Proview subsidiary.