Beats gets beaten by LG in trademark lawsuit

Audio giant's objection to LG's 'QuadBeat' rejected in court

In a legal battle over headphone trademarks, LG has beaten a company owned by Apple.

US titan Beats Electronics, which together with Beats Music was acquired by Apple for US$3 billion (S$4.07 billion) in 2014, had objected to South Korean LG Electronic's bid to register the word "QuadBeat" as it looked and sounded too much like its own "BEATS" trademark.

Beats' case was rejected after a hearing before Intellectual Property Adjudicator David Llewelyn at the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (Ipos) Court Room.

He found that the "BEATS" mark comprised a common five letter word in upper-case, while "QuadBeat" comprised two common four letter words, hence both were dissimilar.

Aurally the two are not the same as QuadBeat involves two syllables and Beats only one. QuadBeat is an invented word while Beats is a common word, so both are different in concept.

"Weighing up carefully all three aspects of marks-similarity and making an overall valuation, I find that the applicant's mark QuadBeat and the opponent's BEATS mark are dissimilar," said Professor Llewelyn in judgment grounds released yesterday.

LG, a global supplier of electronic equipment, applied to register "QuadBeat" in relation to a range of products contained in the Class 9 category of trademark classification that includes headphones, earphones and smartphones.

Beats Electronics - a leading global industry player - sold its products under various trademarks, all of which feature the word "beats", sometimes with a prefix such as Urbeats or Ibeats or with another word such as "Beats by Dr Dre". The latter-named products drew celebrity endorsements from the likes of Justin Bieber, Luis Suarez and Serena Williams.

Beats claimed it took up some 35 per cent of the 2012 share of the Singapore premium headphone market and relied on several marks already registered here.

Its lawyers Gene Kwek and Just Wang argued the application was made in bad faith, alleging the Beats product range would have been known to LG at the time its application was made. They cited reports of South Korean celebrities endorsing Beats by Dr Dre headphones in their music videos.

LG's lawyers Gretchen Su and Bridget Goh countered that "it was never aware of the opponent's marks", and pointed to a number of other earlier registered marks owned by other parties unrelated to either Beats or LG.

They included "Beat Jam" by Sony, "Beat Spot" by Yamaha and "Backbeat" by Plantronics Inc.

Prof Llewelyn held that such examples illustrate that the word "beat" is "one that honest traders may wish to use in connection with goods in Class 9".

He found Beats had failed to support its claim of bad faith and pointed out "beat" is a " highly allusive" common word.

The Singapore Management University law school deputy dean, who is on the panel of IP Adjudicators, noted the significant differences in trademark law between the European Union and Singapore when commenting on a EU case relied on by Beats.

He said: "I would urge that parties to opposition proceedings exercise caution in the use of authorities from the former."

Beats was ordered to pay costs.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 24, 2016, with the headline 'Beats gets beaten by LG in trademark lawsuit'. Print Edition | Subscribe