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How Does an Apple Sound?

Posted in Branding, Famous Marks, Non-Traditional Trademarks, Sound, Trademarks

–Dan Kelly, Attorney

I have been critical in the past of some of Apple’s apparent trademark gaffes (here, here, and here), but I do like the company’s products–I own two Apple computers and two iPods.  (This represents great progress for me.  In college, those of us in engineering referred to Macs as “MacIncrash” computers, having had too much experience losing data on them.)

The Unofficial Apple Weblog (“TUAW”) posted some excerpts of an video interview of Jim Reekes done by the blog One More Thing (a Dutch blog).  Mr. Reekes was a programmer at Apple for eleven years or so, roughly from 1988 until 1999, and, among other things, he created the distinctive sound that nearly every Apple computer makes when starting up.

In the excerpts posted at TUAW (note: there are a couple of profanities), Reekes discusses some of the history of the startup sound as well as the genesis of the name of the “sosumi” chime.  There are interesting legal aspects to both.  As Reekes notes a couple of times, the startup sound is quite distinctive–a word that signals trademark significance–yet I have been unable to locate a federal trademark registration for it.  Even so, it seems to enjoy fairly broad common law rights–enough that audiences recognized it in the movie Wall-E.  This is one trademark that Apple has gotten quite right.

The full interview is much better than the excerpts at TUAW, however it is an hour long.  TUAW also dubbed in some of the sounds under discussion, which might help the uninitiated.