updated 09:00 pm EDT, Thu July 4, 2013
Name is trademarked, in some cases already associated with shipping products
After reports of Apple's trademarking of the term "iWatch" in a number of countries, it has been discovered that the name has already been trademarked for some time in the US, the UK and, in what could be a troubling development, China. In fact, China has previously trademarked both the term "iWatch" and "iWatching," reports Chinese news journal Sina Tech. In the US, a company that was trying to raise funds to manufacture a smartwatch (but was unsuccessful) already trademarked the name, while the UK trademark is used for a monitoring smartphone app.
Apple is doubtless aware of the other trademarks, and would probably find it fairly easy to negotiate deals with the US and UK trademark holders -- but the Chinese system is, as the iPad maker has already discovered, a different kettle of fish. After legally securing the trademark for the name "iPad" in China from nearly-bankrupt monitor maker Proview, the Chinese company essentially used the court system to blackmail Apple into coughing up another $60 million to "settle" the issue of ownership of the trademark. Since then, Apple has avoided using a "front" company to secure trademark names as it did with Proview.
A total of nine companies -- three of which are established watch or computer peripheral sellers -- have registered the iWatch trademark in China over the years, but most of them are currently invalid. The "iWatching" name, however, is still in force and similar enough to give Apple's legal department headaches if they register "iWatch" in China. Apple is already facing "copycat" lawsuits from Chinese companies that accuse Apple of infringing on trademarks for Siri and the name Snow Leopard.
Apple's trademarking of "iWatch" in Japan, Taiwan, Turkey and Mexico is thought to be part of an effort to secure the name for a forthcoming "smartwatch" the combines a number of rumored functions -- everything from acting as a "front end" for some routine tasks now done on the iPhone (such as, ironically, checking the time) to other functions such as identifying callers, acting as a pedometer and heart-rate monitor as many "smart bracelets" do now, and perhaps offering summaries of messages, news stories and other brief displays of text. A number of other companies either already have or are working on smartwatches as part of the trend of more "wearable" devices -- a concept largely pioneered by Apple with the iPod and advanced by companies such as Google with its "Glass" project.
The owner of the US patent on "iWatch" is a startup called OMG Electronics that tried to launch an IndieGoGo project to create an actual smartwatch, but met with low interest. The OMG iWatch (actually made by Berri) would help users make and receive phone calls, send or receive text and MMS messages, listen to music and check voicemail among other functions. The site currently sells other companies' versions of smartwatches, and provides a good primer on why Apple could easily enter and dominate such a market.
The UK name is owned by a company called Probendi, which uses the name not for a smartwatch but for a smartphone app that "sends real-time audio, video and location data to the Critical Governance platform," possibly referring to intelligence and government services, the trademark is a "community" mark, meaning it is good for the whole of the European Union as well. According to Cult of Mac, the headquarters is located in Italy, but its website is located in Delaware and it also has an office in Bogata, Columbia. It has held the iWatch trademark since 2008.