Trademarking apples - the case of the Pink Lady

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A recent court case over the infringement of the Pink Lady trademark allows us to examine the importance intellectual property plays in the apple market. The apple is a peculiar product as it is one of the few produce items marketed by cultivar or botanical variety. There exist others such as tomatoes, but the frenzy and investment surrounding apple varieties tops them by far.

Gala, Fuji, Honeycrisp, Braeburn, Golden Delicious, Red Delicious, Cortland, etc.: these days it seems there are a million different kinds of apples to choose from. As an article in WisContext notes, the success of myriad apple varieties is owed more to intellectual property rights and marketing tactics than to their natural abundance of taste and impressive appearance. Indeed, apple varieties are patented and trademarked like any other product. This practice originated in the mid-1900s as a means of rewarding growers for the time and money they spent engineering creative varieties. While protecting apple varieties began with patenting them, trademarking the names became necessary in order to ensure growers continued to hold the exclusive rights to selling them once the patent expired.

In order to produce and sell a certain variety of apple a grower now has to pay royalties to the trademark owner -who is often the original breeder of the variety. Moreover, apple clubs have developed as an additional measure of protection. Growers create groups amongst themselves in which they develop new varieties and are able to monitor the process from development to production to marketing, thereby keeping close tabs on the fruit’s (high) quality and (limited) market supply and ensuring profitable returns for themselves.

Cripps Pink is the popular botanical variety associated with the Pink Lady trademark. It was created in Western Australia by John Cripps but has been subsequently produced around the world and sold under the same trademark. As a matter of fact, Apple and Pear Australia Limited launched the International Pink Lady Alliance composed of trademark licensees from all over (Argentina, Chile, Europe, New Zealand, South Africa, the United States, Uruguay and Japan) in order to manage the brand. The royalties collected from the growers ensure they maintain quality standards and avoids potential trademark infringements as well as help market the brand.

Recently, however, some Pink Lady producers have come into conflict. According to the World IP Review, Apple and Pear Australia (APAL) challenged Pink Lady America (PLA) over an agreement they had made in 2006. While APAL owned most of the Pink Lady trademarks worldwide, it had allowed PLA to use them royalty-free in territories between Chile and North America, in exchange for the PLA owned Chilean mark. In 2008, however, the IPLA introduced a new heart shaped logo called “refreshed” which APAL argued did not fall under the agreement and therefore could not be used royalty free by PLA.

A first ruling determined the agreement covered the new logo since both parties were aware that it was in the process of being drawn up at the time. A recent appeal, however, overturned the decision and maintained that the agreement only covered the list of existing trademarks at the time. Therefore, PLA cannot use the Pink Lady trademark in Chile. This decision restores the APAL’s control over the Pink Lady brand and strengthens its hierarchical position within the IPLA.

This case proves that registering a trademark is not only rewarding for the owner of a specific brand but that it encourages innovation across markets, keeping competition and technological progress alive!

The best way to protect your company’s reputation, brand value and profits in today’s global marketplace is by registering a trademark and gaining trademark enforcement rights early on. However, just having the trademark is not enough. You also need to police your market for potential infringements and then be prepared to act on them when they do arise.

For advice and more information on searching, acquiring, registering and enforcing Trademarks please visit our website,

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