A small firm in Maryland, Man & Machine has been manufacturing the waterproof “Mighty Mouse” for a few years. Unfortunately, they seem to be one of those businesses that said “nah, we don’t need no stinkin’ trademark lawyer” (at least not until it was a bit late). So, about a year and some change after they launched their product, Apple launched a product called (drum roll) the Mighty Mouse.
The waterproof mighty mouse? I’ve never heard of it before. The Apple mighty mouse? Yes, I’ve heard of it. In fact, I ordered one today (to go with my new Macintosh, up yours Microsoft!).
This is what is known as “reverse confusion.” It is no more “reverse” than “reverse racism” is “reverse” … but that’s the name it gets. Put simply, the concept is this: Sometimes in trademark disputes, the junior user is so big that it confuses consumers into believing that the senior user is actually the knock-off.
But you must be wondering, where is the actual Mighty Mouse in all of this?
CBS owns the rights to the Mighty Mouse trademark, and Apple duly licensed the name from CBS. However, this will now come down to whether CBS had rights that extended as far as computer gear in that famous name.
Man & Machine filed an application for a trademark registration for their use of the mark (source) in December. But, CBS had filed for the same thing in July. (source). In response, Man & Machine took on CBS and Apple.
It goes without saying that CBS has priority to the MIGHTY MOUSE mark for cartoons, kids stuff, toys, etc. Even items that CBS might not yet make that are within the “natural zone of expansion” for the mark are off limits to competitors.
An important question here will be whether that natural zone of expansion includes computer hardware, namely, mice. It is possible that Man & Machine could prevail, but the smart money is on Apple, since CBS is backing them up.
Interestingly enough, according to the Wikipedia entry on Mighty Mouse, he was originally named Super Mouse, but since there already was a Super Mouse comic book character, the creator changed the name.
News coverage on this story here.