UK court bites into Apple logo case

On the opening day of a closely watched court case in London on Wednesday, lawyers for The Beatles’ record company accused Apple Computer Inc. of improperly using an apple logo to advertise its iTunes music store.

Apple Corps Ltd. made opening arguments in its request for an injunction that would bar the computer manufacturer from using its logo — an apple with a bite taken out — to advertise the sale of music through iTunes.

The record company alleges that Apple Computer is violating a 1991 agreement that sets limits on how the companies can use their similar logos.

Apple Computer founder Steve Jobs chose the logo out of admiration for The Beatles when he co-founded the company in 1976. The companies have sparred in two previous lawsuits over how their logos could be used. Apple Corps’ logo is an uneaten green apple.

Apple Corps attorney Geoffrey Vos played an iTunes advertisement for the court, featuring exclusive tracks from the band Coldplay. The ad ends with the Apple Computer logo.

“That advertisement is as flagrant violation of this agreement as it is possible to imagine,” Vos said.

Apple Computer’s corporate communications director Alan Hely declined to comment on the case Wednesday morning. In a statement issued Tuesday, the computer company said it differed with Apple Corps over the interpretation of the agreement.

Apple Corps could pursue monetary damages against Apple Computer if an injunction is granted. In 1990, Apple Computer settled a second lawsuit over trademarks with Apple Corps for about $25 million.

An injunction could mean Apple Computer would have to remove all logos used in the promotion of iTunes and sale of music.

The standing-room-only courtroom featured wide-screen monitors for technical demonstrations along with volumes of files pertaining to the turbulent legal history between Apple Computer and Apple Corps.

The presiding judge, Justice Edward Mann, said at the start of the trial Wednesday that he had used the iTunes software but had not purchased any songs. Apple Computer said in February it sold one billion songs through the service since it started in April 2003.

Mann has been widely reported as owning an iPod, but he has continued to hear the case. The trial is expected to continue throughout the week.

Updated 1:40PM March 29, 2006: Added color commentary from courtroom.

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