The Hysteria about the Coming Apple Watch in Switzerland Takes an Odd Twist over an Old Trademark owned by a Swiss IP Company
We noted back last October that Jean-Claude Biver head of watch brands (Tag Heuer, Zenith, and Hublot) at LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SA stated that that because of Apple's sheer size and influence you have to take them seriously. Biver added that "Others have done smartwatches before, but when Apple does it, it will sell." We noted in December that Intel may be working with Biver on a new smartwatch to defend itself against Apple. In January Biver ratcheted up the rhetoric about their coming smartwatch and in March Tag Heuer made it official that they're working with Intel and Google for their coming smartwatch. Another known watch maker by the name of Swatch jumped into the discussion saying that the Apple Watch will force Switzerland's watch industry into an ice age. It's safe to say that the Swiss are extremely concerned about the coming Apple Watch, but are preparing for a royal battle to protect their turf.
Now a new twist has been added to the discussion of the coming invasion of the Apple Watch in Switzerland. A new report titled "Apple has no right to launch its Apple Watch in Switzerland," has surfaced on Radio Television Suisse (RTS). Radio Television Suisse is under the belief that Apple won't be able to launch the Apple Watch in Switzerland until at least sometime after December 5 due an intellectual property rights issue. The argument surrounds a trademark (not a patent) owned by William Leong who owns Leonard Timepieces SA as noted below which was filed under international class 14 which covers "Precious metals and their alloys and goods in these materials or coated therewith, not included in other classes; jewelery, precious stones; clocks and timepieces."
The RTS Interview was with Gregory Pons of the magazine "Business Montres". Mr. Pons indicated that technically a William Leong owns "Leonard Timepieces SA" a Geneva company and applied with the Swiss Federal Institute of Intellectual Property in Berne Switzerland on December 5, 1985 to register a trademark which was approved and registered in February 28, 1986 with an image of an apple (as above) which is set to expire on December 5, 2015.
The application included the use of precious metals and their respective alloys whether these materials were used in the production of the watch itself or for purposes of the coating or plating processes. Mr. Leong currently successfully blocked production and selling of the Apple Watch in Switzerland. Mr. Pons freely admitted that this was a tempest in a teapot as enthusiasts can still buy the Apple Watch in Germany or Italy or any neighboring country. As indicated the expiration if December 5, 2015 and Apple has already or is in the process of launching a legal challenge so this halting of Apple selling their Apple watch in Switzerland essentially only buys the Swiss another six months. Below is a transcript of the interview:
Interviewer: Good evening Gregory Pons who is joining us from Geneva. Good evening, Sir.
Gregory Pons: Good evening
Interviewer: You are the managing editor of Business Montres magazine. Your magazine`s byline was a stroke of thunder which struck Apple Watch and all of its marketing apparatus when you revealed to Swiss watchmakers that Apple did not have the right to sell Apple Watch in Switzerland as it is doing in other countries because of an old trademark.
Gregory Pons: Well, I was wondering to myself why Apple was not doing any marketing of its Apple Watch in Switzerland and why it was not launching its Apple Watch in Switzerland on April 24th as it is in other European countries. I then met a pleasant Chinese man who told me: ``I am the proprietor of the trademark``. I asked him how this was possible and he told me that on December 5, 1985 I applied to the Swiss Federal Institute of Intellectual Property to register the trademark with an apple. The gentleman was not entirely clear on the subject of why he registered the name other than I gathered that one of his daughters was probably named ``Apple`` and so he applied to register a trademark which was approved and registered in February 28, 1986 with an image of an apple (see graphic) which expires on December 5, 2015.
Interviewer: So he is the proprietor of the name and of the "Apple image" essentially?
Gregory Pons: Yes he is the proprietor and of the trademark which I confirmed this afternoon was regularly officially renewed. The registration expires on December 5, 2015 and I believe he is in the process of negotiating with the Americans to purchase the trademark at no doubt a high cost and, at the moment, he is totally blocking the marketing and broadcasting and sale of the Apple Watch in Switzerland. Why, well, if only one Apple Watch arrives in Switzerland it effectively is a trademark violation and it is a known fact that the Swiss tribunals are very strict and not at all friendly when it comes to these violations.
Interviewer: So does the patent protect the name and the design, can you tell us precisely what this trademark is blocking.
Gregory Pons: Well, it isn`t a patent but rather a trademark and typically, trademarks are filed by classes … and in the class consisting of the watch, you cannot launch a watch in Switzerland with the name Apple or the logo showing an Apple. Consequently, the Apple Watch has the name Apple and shows an Apple logo so it cannot be launched in Switzerland without violating this trademark. It is that silly but apparently, the geniuses in California …
Interviewer: It seems clear that Apple did not anticipate …
Gregory Pons: Well, I think Apple found out but a little late. So that is why they are now prevented from exploiting the name and logo as well as any broadcasting any advertising using the name and logo.
Interviewer: So do you anticipate the Swiss watchmakers approaching this gentleman to ask him to apply for a renewal of his trademark?
Gregory Pons: Well of course I'm sure they want to protect the Swiss market but it reminds me of the legend of William Tell, you know the history of the Swiss and the apple. The Swiss know how to hit the apple very well and I think the arrow hit precisely.
Interviewer: So economically, what effect will this have on Apple and the Apple Watch? We know it will not affect the global market but in terms of the Swiss market, we have gained, what, six months?
Gregory Pons: Well, it all depends on whether the trademark is renewed or not. Essentially, it is, however, this one is tempest in a teapot, as compared to the enormity of the challenge that Apple will launch against, not the Swiss people, but rather the all watch companies in order to "secure the wrists" of potential buyers and there is the potential devastating impact with no doubt many victims, job losses in Switzerland and elsewhere, etc. while Apple will seek to win the market consisting of the 20, 30, 40, 50 millions of watches being sold across the world in the next 12 months.
Interviewer: So who will directly profit from this endeavor in terms of the Swiss watchmakers' market?
Gregory Pons: Well … frankly, this is where it is a bit of joke. We have gained at the most six months until the end of this year, however, anyone who wants to purchase this watch can do so in Germany, in France and any neighboring country so the blockage is not a big problem. It is more symbolic but interesting that Apple cannot invade this market out of hand.
Interviewers (two): Thank you, it is interesting that Swiss watchmakers are doing everything they can to protect their patents and trademarks and stop their competitors from acquiring any of these patents and trademarks...
To begin with, Apple never intended to launch the Apple Watch in Switzerland right out of the gate. Only nine countries were listed in their March press release. I'm sure that Apple wants to work out all of the initial bugs of the new watch before entering the watchmaker's kingdom for the holiday season.
When looking into Leonard Timepieces SA, the Swiss Business Director interestingly notes the activity of the company as being "Leasing of intellectual property and similar products, except copyrighted works." Do they manufacture a trademarked watch under an "Apple" brand? Apparently they don't.
In the end, we'd like to think that Apple legal will quietly sort this annoyance out and/or settle it or even go to war in the courts. Having Tag Heuer and Swatch step into the ring to go head to head with Apple is fair and square competition that will be fun to watch play out over the next decade.
Let's hope that the legal system in Switzerland isn't going to allow an old trademark by an IP troll interfere with international commerce. Then again, when it comes to the livelihood of their country, you never know how this is going to play out if it ever goes to court. It's definitely a weird twist in the Apple Watch story that's unfolding and it's impossible to forecast how it could play out in the coming months ahead.
I know that the Swiss watch makers want to prove that they could beat Apple by going head to head with them instead of winning by default. That would make their industry look so pathetically insecure; perhaps the laughing stock of the world. So there's more on the line for them than for Apple. The world will now be waiting to see how this plays out. What are your thoughts on this? Send in your comments below.