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Apple and Beatles settle trademark squabble

By Kate Holton
Reuters
Monday, February 5, 2007; 3:32 PM

LONDON (Reuters) - Apple Inc. has settled its long-running trademark dispute with The Beatles' company, Apple Corps Ltd, in a deal that could finally pave the way for the Fab Four's songs to be sold on the iTunes music store.

The two companies said Apple Inc. would now own all the trademarks related to "Apple" and would license certain trademarks back to Apple Corps for continued use.

"We love the Beatles, and it has been painful being at odds with them over these trademarks," Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs said in a statement.

Neil Aspinall, manager of Apple Corps, said it was great to put the dispute behind them and move on. "The years ahead are going to be very exciting times for us. We wish Apple Inc. every success and look forward to many years of peaceful cooperation with them."

The dispute centers around a 1991 trademark agreement between the two sides regarding the use of their respective apple-shaped logos. The music firm said that the computer company had violated the agreement by moving into the music business through its market-leading iTunes online store.

In May 2006 a judge at the High Court in London sided with Apple Inc. Apple Corps, owned by Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, John Lennon's widow Yoko Ono and the estate of George Harrison, said it would appeal.

Apple, which has sold over a billion downloads, had argued that iTunes was primarily a data transmission service and that it was permitted by the agreement.

ONLINE SPECULATION

The statement said the trademark lawsuit between the two companies would now end, with each party bearing its own legal costs.

The Beatles are high-profile holdouts from Internet music services such as iTunes, but it also emerged during the trial that Apple Corps was preparing the band's catalog to be sold online for the first time.

A spokeswoman for Apple Corps said the agreement announced on Monday did not change anything regarding the group's online plans, but speculation has been rife the Beatles' music will be sold online in the future.

At the recent high-profile launch of the new Apple iPhone, Jobs raised hopes that the band could be about to go digital when it played one of their songs and used a Beatles' album cover to grace its giant monitor.

A source familiar with the situation told Reuters at the time that it was "safe to assume that something sooner rather than later will happen."

Jupiter research analyst Mark Mulligan said the trademark settlement would certainly help in the move to sell the Beatles' music online via services such as iTunes.

"Put it this way, Beatles music could not be sold on iTunes until that happened, so it was an important step," he told Reuters.

Asked if there were any immediate plans for the Beatles' music to be sold online, a spokeswoman for EMI, the band's record label, declined to comment.




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