French wine snobs warn Apple not to release a ‘champagne’ iPhone

August 30, 2013

(Photo by comedy_nose)

You may have heard that Apple's considering unveiling a gold-colored iPhone early next month. Well, so have a bunch of irate Frenchmen, it turns out.

The problem isn't that the iPhone will be gold, per se. Rather, it's that the device could be called a light shade of "champagne." And now a trade association for French wines is preemptively warning Apple against doing so.

"We can’t say that a ‘champagne’ colour exists," said Charles Goamaere, legal director for the Interprofessional Committee for Champagne Wine, in an interview with French media this week. Therefore, any company wanting to use the name ‘Champagne’ would be doing so [only] to attract all the benefits that surround [the label.]”

Goamere's trade group is among the biggest defenders of the champagne brand. If you're a sparkling wine producer located outside of the Champagne region of France, you have to call your beverage something else.

Those protections evidently extend beyond the alcohol industry. In 1987, the Comité Champagne sued Perrier for marketing one of its products as "The champagne of mineral waters." Other high-profile suits include a 1993 case targeting a perfume from Yves Saint Laurent and, more recently in 2002, a champagne-flavored yogurt from Sweden.

Apple is being characteristically tight-lipped about what it'll call its new iPhone color, but it has a history of stomping on other brands. In 2007, Apple settled a yearlong dispute with Cisco, which had also released a product under the name "iPhone." The settlement allowed both companies to use the word, but Steve Jobs pretty clearly came out on top. Then there's the famous case where music from the Beatles was unavailable from the iTunes Store for years, due to a longstanding dispute between the tech company and the musicians' record label, Apple Records. And in 2012, Apple paid a Chinese company $60 million to settle a suit regarding the iPad brand in China.

All of which is to say that while Apple could face a major legal hangover if it moves forward with the name "champagne," it's a situation the company is probably familiar with by now.

Brian Fung covers technology for The Washington Post.
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