iWatch What Happens: Swatch Defends Trademark Against Apple

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As brands embrace wearable tech and personal computing starts moving to the wrist (or other body parts), Apple fans and foes are on the lookout for its much-anticipated “iWatch,” a piece of wearable tech (that may not even be a watch) that has been elevated to such high status that George Jetson would covet it and a veteran luxury marketer—former Burberry CEO Angela Ahrendts—will help sell it.

It remains to be seen what Apple will eventually turn out, but one thing is now clear: Swatch, the world’s largest watchmaker, is ready to protect its ground. Having kept its lawyers busy chasing Target and Tiffany, the Swiss firm recently filed complaints against Apple’s application for the iWatch trademark, which is now starting to pop up, because it is too similar to its trademarked iSwatch product, according to media outlets including Bloomberg and the London Telegraph

The iWatch trademark was registered by Apple last year in Japan, Mexico, and Turkey. There has been no move to take Apple to court, but Swatch would certainly prefer that Apple not use iWatch for the consumer-facing product when it launches. “We assess the likelihood of confusion as [high], given the marks are confusingly similar. In all countries where the mark is registered” Swatch intends to stop Apple from using the name, a Swatch rep told the Telegraph.[more]

Apple will likely need to settle on a new name (or settle with Swatch) soon, as CEO Tim Cook has promised investors that the company will put out new products this year and the watch seems to be the most likely candidate. Wearable tech is hot and smartphone sales aren’t growing as exponentially as they once were. 

Of course, it’s a crowded race as brands vie for wearable tech leadership. Sony, adidas and Samsung have turned out smartwatches, Google introduced its Android wearable back in March, and Nike has been pushing its biometric-tracking FuelBand hard since its debut in January of 2012.

Nike’s embattled FuelBand, in fact, may have inspired the folks on Apple’s wearables design team, particularly with its focus on health monitoring. Reuters reports that Apple is “building a team of senior medical technology executives, raising hackles in the biotechnology community and offering a hint of what the iPhone maker may be planning for its widely expected iWatch and other wearable technology.”

Apple has been on a bit of a hiring spree of biomedical and healthtech experts in the last year and is still recruiting more. The hires are likely to be involved with creating sensors to measure everything from “blood-sugar levels to nutrition,” Reuters comments. “This is a very specific play in the bio-sensing space,” said Malay Gandhi, chief strategy officer at Rock Health, a San Francisco venture capital firm that tracks wearable tech.

However, one person told Apple that he had discussions with Apple executives that indicate that the company isn’t just looking to get into health-tech wearables but “is considering a full health and fitness services platform modeled on its apps store,” Reuters reports. That would allow startups to “develop their own software and hardware mobile medical applications.”

If Apple decided to debut a medical device, it would surely get some pushback from the FDA, which said it would regulate such things rather than putting its effort into such as things as FuelBand, which tracks exercise.

FuelBand has had its own struggles. Endeavor Partners recently reported that one-third of Americans “who have owned a wearable ditched it within six months.” And Nike has had to lay off some of its FuelBand workers, Re/code reports, and Apple’s planned entry into the wearable arena is expected to hurt sales for Nike’s product.

As Bloomberg points out, though, Nike’s hope for the FuelBand is more about selling other products and connecting with the customer than actually selling FuelBands. So it will continue to “sell and support” FuelBand, but consumers shouldn’t look for innovations in that department.

And to circle back to where we started this,iguess who might be coming along to help boost FuelBand? Apple. Nike CEO Mark Parker said late last week that the NIke and Apple have a “longstanding relationship” that “will continue,” and he’s “very excited about where that will go.” The Boston Business Journal took that as a sign that Apple may have a lot to do with the next iteration of FuelBand. 

For now, at least, consumers, rivals and lawyers in the smartband / wearables space are watching to see what Apple does next.

• Connect with Mark on Twitter: @markjmill

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