updated 07:00 pm EDT, Wed May 18, 2011
Despite Intel claim, trademark not established
In a surprising move, Apple has been revealed to be making claims to the Thunderbolt trademark in the U.S. and Canada, based on an earlier filing last November in Jamaica. Since the high-speed technology was first formally announced in late February, all press and web communications referring to it have consistently claimed that both the name and the service mark of Thunderbolt belonged to Intel, the company that developed the technology. A quick search of U.S. and Canadian records have turned up no awarding of such a trademark to Intel directly, raising the question of exactly how much of the technology was actually developed by Apple.
Intel originally acknowledged Apple's collaboration in the process to bring the technology -- originally named "Light Peak" and based on optical fiber -- to market, specifically referring to a partnership with Apple on the "electrical solution" (ie the change to copper wiring, as optical cables don't carry power) needed to bring the technology into a usable form now. The copper wiring use by Thunderbolt limits the maximum length of cables to three meters, but offers up to 10W of power. Intel has promised that an optical-based cable that does not include power will be available later in the year that can be up to "tens of meters" in length.
As to why Apple -- and not Intel -- is filing for the Thunderbolt trademark, no clear explanation has been forthcoming from either company so far. It is possible that Apple has decided to use the Thunderbolt name for it's own implementation in order to differentiate it from others, such as Sony's alleged USB-based version of Thunderbolt (which may run afoul of the USB Implementer's Forum), a situation not dissimilar to the split between Firewire (the trademarked name for Apple's technology) and Sony's use of the term iLink, both referring to the same standardized technology, which was eventually given the formal name IEEE 1394.