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Monday, April 09, 2012, 12:33 pm PT (03:33 pm ET)

As 'iPad' becomes synonymous with 'tablet,' Apple must protect brand

The success of the iPad has made it the go-to tablet for consumers, leaving Apple in a position to defend its brand and ensure it doesn't become generic.

The potential of the "iPad" name becoming generic was explored in a report on Monday by The Associated Press. The iPad name was compared to other iconic brands like aspirin and heroin, which became generic, as well as Kleenex and Band-Aid, which have not become generic despite their ubiquitous use.

In order to maintain ownership of a brand, companies must aggressively defend their trademarks to ensure they do not become generic. Apple has already experienced a similar issue with the iPod, which has dominated the portable media player market for over a decade.

Apple's rival Google has found itself in a similar situation, with the word "Google" becoming synonymous with online searches. But Google benefits from the fact that most people do not say they are "Googling" when they use a competitor like Bing or Yahoo.

But Jessica Litman, a professor of copyright law at the University of Michigan Law School, said she doesn't think Apple will have a hard time defending the "iPad" trademark, as the company has proven itself successful in the past.

"Apple is actually pretty good at this," she said. "It's able to skate pretty close to the generics line while making it very clear the name is a trademark of the Apple version of this general category."

iPad 3


In the holiday quarter of 2011, Apple's iPad accounted for an estimated 58 percent of global tablet shipments. Led by Amazon's Kindle Fire, Android tablets accounted for 39 percent of shipments.

The widespread acceptance, and in some cases misuse, of the iPad name is a far cry from when the device was first unveiled two years ago and the name drew criticism. Prior to its announcement, the iPad was generally known as a mythical "Apple tablet."

Apple is even fighting for the right to continue using the iPad name, as the company Proview, which released a different product named "iPAD" years ago, has sued Apple. The two companies struck a deal for the right to the iPad trademark in 2009, but Proview has argued that the agreement is not legal.