owner, Hamilton Tiger-Cats

Bob Young may well have been joking yesterday when he offered his oddball solution to a trademark dispute between Apple Computer Inc. and a tech retailer, fighting each other over the name of a new operating system. But all jests aside, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats owner says this legal battle raises a serious IT issue.

Young offered to license the word “tiger” to Apple for free, as a way for the Mac maker to end a lawsuit from TigerDirect Inc., a computer retailer. Perhaps if Apple could license “tiger,” the firm would sidestep TigerDirect’s complaint that Apple’s new operating system, “Tiger,” infringes TigerDirect’s trademark.

Young argues that if anyone should possess the word “tiger,” it’s the Tiger-Cats, the Canadian Football League (CFL) team that Young owns; it plays out of his home town, Hamilton, Ont. The club has had the word “tiger” in its title for more than a century.Going after Apple for using ‘Tiger’ is going after them for using a common word, not for trademark. It’s a great example of how out of control the IP claims are in our industry.Bob Young>Text “That TigerDirect should try and get exclusive rights to the word ‘tiger’ when the Hamilton Tiger-Cats don’t have exclusive right to the word ‘tiger’ despite our 136-year history, it’s absurd,” said Young, former chairman of Linux distributor Red Hat Inc. and current CEO of Lulu Inc., which offers book-publishing tools.

Young said the press release was a way to “have fun” with the situation, but it also raises an issue crucial to the IT sector, that of intellectual property (IP) rights. Young figures IP disputes in the tech industry are out of hand.

“Tiger the operating system and TigerDirect the mail order company, there’s no possibility for confusion on the consumer’s part,” he said, pointing out that trademark laws are supposed keep consumers from getting confused as to who made a product, what it does, etc.

But in this case, the product isn’t the problem, Young said. “It’s the word at issue. Going after Apple for using ‘Tiger’ is going after them for using a common word, not for trademark. It’s a great example of how out of control the IP claims are in our industry.”

TigerDirect’s suit, filed just before Apple launched the Tiger OS last Friday, alleges that the computer maker’s Tiger campaign causes consumer confusion and dilutes TigerDirect’s trademarks.

“(Apple’s) promotions refer to ‘Tiger Essentials,’ ‘Tiger Unleashed,’ ‘Tiger World Premiere’ and ‘X Days until Tiger,’ and direct consumers to a ‘Tiger Center’ that features products from manufacturers and product categories which are basically the same as the offerings by Tiger Direct,” said Tiger Direct in a statement.

Young’s solution to the trademark battle won’t go very far, according to Arshia Tabrizi, a Toronto-based lawyer specializing in trademark and IP issues. “Unless [Young] has rights to a registered trademark for ‘tiger’ in association with software, his good intentions may not be sufficient.”

But Young was unperturbed. “I’m not even sure TigerDirect are wrong. A judge may rule against Apple for all I know. If he does, it’s an example of how our legislation has gotten out of synch with what makes our innovative industries work.”

That said, “if [Apple] called us up and said, ‘Here’s a little contract for use of the word ‘tiger’ at zero dollars,’ I’d be honoured to sign it,” Young added, pointing out that it’s unlikely.

An Apple rep said the company would not comment. TigerDirect did not respond before press time.

The Tiger-Cats went into last season’s Eastern semi-finals with a 9-8 win-loss ratio, but ultimately dropped the match to the Toronto Argonauts, 24-6. The Argos went on to take the Grey Cup over the B.C. Lions, 24-19.

— with files from Matthew Broersma

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