Why finding future Apple product names in trademark filings has become next to impossible

Three weeks after an Irish lawyer uncovered the official names for iPhone 7, AirPods and other then-unreleased gadgets from trademark filings last year, Apple’s favorite trademark office in Jamaica made it a lot harder to conduct those kinds of searches.

Apple, Google and others register product names in foreign countries without searchable trademark databases, which include Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Peru and Jamaica.

The latter has become a favorite hiding place for Apple, says Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman.

The Intellectual Property Office in Jamaica lacks a searchable database so one must conduct searches in person, meaning trademark sleuths need to fly to Jamaica or hire a local lawyer to comb through the office’s computer system in search of unreleased Apple product names.

Irish lawyer Brian Conroy took advantage of the system, paying local law firms to conduct searches in Jamaica on his behalf. He was successful in uncovering trademarks for “iPhone 7”, “iPhone 7 Plus”, “AirPods” and “Touch Bar” before the products were formally announced.

Here’s an excerpt from the report:

A few months ago, Apple applied to register the trademark for its new Siri-powered speaker in Liechtenstein—the first time the company had used the principality to file for trademark priority in the U.S.

While the principality has an online trademark database, product names don’t show up until the trademark application is approved, a process that takes time. As a result the world didn’t learn the gadget’s name—HomePod—until its unveiling in June.

Under the new rules, proprietor searches and date range searches in Jamaica are no longer available using the office’s public computers. “Proprietor searches will be performed by the office upon request and payment of the requisite fees, with only information on published and registered marks being provided,” according to the office’s director Lilyclaire Bellamy.

“You can no longer search for ‘any applications filed by Apple in the last X months,’” the aforesaid Irish lawyer noted, “which is what you really need to do to find trademarks for products which don’t yet exist and which we don’t know the name of.”

He added:

I suspect Apple will keep jumping from jurisdiction to jurisdiction to keep prying eyes away. It would be a shot in the dark every time to find the trademarks of future product names.

This substantial adjustment in how the office operates means trademark sleuths can no longer glean valuable information about unreleased Apple products from unpublished trademarks.

Under the current rules, any US company can register a trademark anywhere in the world as long as the trademark is filed for with the US within six months.