Creatively Challenged

For something like two decades, your computer firm has been known for the cult-like devotion of its followers and its single-button mice, so when it comes time to introduce a two-button mouse, how to placate the hurt feelings of those who’ve spent 20 years arguing that the One Way is One Button? First, it helps if the new device doesn’t actually appear to have two buttons—maybe they won’t notice?—and second, you give it a slightly-deprecating-yet-somehow-still-smug name: “Mighty Mouse” is the all-too-obvious choice and the one that Apple inc., in fact, made.

Don’t assume, just because this is Overlawyered, that Apple is being sued by CBS, which owns the rights to the cartoon superhero—too obvious.

Actually, CBS itself is a defendant, along with Apple, in a trademark infringement action by a Landover, MD, based computer accessories manufacturer. Man & Machine Inc., contends that it began selling its own “Mighty Mouse” in March 2004, about a year and a half before Apple entered the market.

M&M describes its product thusly: “M&M’s MIGHTY MOUSE computer mouse is a hand-held button-activated input device that, when rolled along a flat surface, direct an indicator to move correspondingly about a computer screen in order to select operations or to manipulate text or graphics.”

Apple’s “Mighty Mouse” fits the same description, claims the complaint, causing confusion in the market. M&M registered its Mighty Mouse late last year, after the Apple product had been on the market for over two years, and now its wants an injunction to keep Apple and CBS, which licensed the name to Apple, from marketing their mouse.

The idea that anyone could confuse the two products, however, is laughable. What makes the M&M product somewhat unique is that it is completely waterproof, but like most non-Apple mice, it is pretty generic-looking. The Apple mouse is anything but. If you’re looking for a waterproof mouse, you’ll probably wind up with the M&M one, no problem. If not, not.

Apple, truly the branding colossus of the day and a well-respected innovator, seems to deal with this kind of thing quite frequently, and folds as often as not. The company’s Bonjour network auto-discovery software entered the market as Rendezvous, before a lawsuit necessitated a name shift. More recently, “iPhone” was up in the air. And then there’s even “Apple” itself.

Everyone, it seems, wants a piece of the (Apple) pie. The price of success?

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