Type “iWatch” into Google’s search engine, and the top result is likely to be an ad for the Apple Watch. Apple pays Google for the advertisements so it doesn’t miss out on potential customers who entered the wrong product name. But a small Dublin-based company, which owns the iWatch trademark in Europe, is hoping the ads will cost Apple a lot more.
Probendi, an Irish software development studio, filed an urgent procedure on June 26 with a court in Milan protesting Apple’s use of the term in its ads, according to the tribunal filing obtained by Bloomberg. “Apple has systematically used iWatch wording on Google search engine in order to direct customers to its own website, advertising Apple Watch,” the document says.
Over the years, many companies, including American Airlines, Geico, and Rosetta Stone, have tried to take on Google or its advertisers in court over trademark issues, often unsuccessfully. Google’s policy for its ad service says it evaluates trademark complaints on a case-by-case basis and “may enforce certain restrictions.” Giacomo Bonelli, a lawyer for Probendi, says, “Apple never replied to our requests and objections, while Google said they are not responsible for links.” Apple and Google declined to comment on the case.
Probendi co-founder Daniele Di Salvo told Bloomberg last year that the company had warned Apple against using the term. He also said the company was working on a smartwatch of its own that would undercut the Apple Watch in price, run Google’s Android software, and carry the name iWatch. Di Salvo now says the project is “in standby.”
An audit commissioned by Probendi and conducted by Barzano & Zanardo, which specializes in copyright disputes, valued the iWatch trademark at €87 million ($97 million), according to two people with knowledge of the matter who requested not to be named because the review was confidential. In 2012, Apple paid $60 million to settle a trademark dispute in China over rights to use the name iPad. A hearing for the iWatch case is scheduled for Nov. 11.
—With Tim Higgins