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Short Exposures: July 18

Apple trademarks shop…And cuts retailers from ‘recycling’ program…Home Depot sells 3D printers…Microsoft and Canon announce…absolutely nothing…GE Money fined squillions, partners with Coles…

Apple trademarks shop

Apple has trademarked its long parallel lines of tables with gadgets on them under a high ceiling. What next - blue T-shirts? (Pic source: Apple Insider/Macerkopf)
Apple has trademarked its long parallel lines of tables with gadgets on them under a high ceiling. What next – blue T-shirts? (Pic source: Apple Insider/Macerkopf)

First we had patenting white backgrounds, and now Apple has managed to con the European Court of justice into trademarking its store design in Europe.

The ECJ has ruled Apple stores are distinctive enough to warrant being considered for a trademark, after the less gullible German courts threw the application out.

The design Apple has trademarked is parallel lines of big tables with electronic gadgets spread out on them under a high ceiling. Merchandising genius! The court said a design pattern like Apple’s ‘may constitute a trademark provided that it is capable of distinguishing the goods or services of one undertaking’ from others. Whatever that means. Apple registered its store layout as a trademark in the United States in 2010.

However a lawyer from Swaab Attorneys, Susan Walsh, told business website SmartCompany that Apple may not have a lay down misere in Australian courts as ‘what constitutes a trademark under the relevant European directive is a little bit different to our definition here.’

However, she noted that Eagle Boys Pizza has registered the pink glow associated with it’s neon signage. Thin edge of the pizza wedge?

—And cuts retailers from ‘recycling’ promotion
Apple is also inviting Australian customers to trade-in their iPhones and iPads for credit towards new models – but only at Apple stores.

Customers can receive a maximum of $250 credit towards a new iPhone or up to $215 for an iPad, Apple said in a statement this week.

The latest models – the iPhone 5S, iPhone 5C, and iPad Air – are not eligible for the credit, nor are Apple’s first-generation models, though customers can still bring them in for ‘recycling’.

Apple is is presenting the trade-in program as a green initiative, although the old devices aren’t actually used to manufacture new devices, it would appear. But at least it it keeps them out of landfill, Apple argues.

It will also keep returning Apple customers out of its retail customers’ outlets, being exclusive to Apple stores. Looks like something the Canon Store could take on board.

Microsoft and Canon announce…absolutely nothing
In an announcement you make when you are not making an announcement, Microsoft and Canon have revealed they have a ‘broad patent cross-licensing agreement’ which involves a ‘collaborative approach …to deliver inventive technologies that benefit consumers around the world.’

Really getting down to the nitty-gritty, it is then revealed the agreement covers ‘a broad range of products and services each company offers, including certain digital imaging and mobile consumer products.’ Well, what else – fruit and vegetables?

Then Microsoft seems to diss the whole thing by adding that since it launched its IP licensing program in December 2003, ‘he company has entered into more than 1100 licensing agreements’. So no big deal.

Home Depot sells 3D printers

The US$1375 MakerBot Mini makes...something.
The US$1375 MakerBot Mini makes…something.

Home Depot, the Bunnings of the US, will start selling 3-D printers, according to a Bloomberg News story.

Home Depot is selling devices from MakerBot, in 12 locations and online.

Customers can use the printers to create parts and supplies that might be handy for repairs, with examples given including cup holders and pipe stakes.

But the hype enveloping 3D printers has jumped way ahead of the reality of what they are capable of in the hands of the average home improver. For starters, they require people to be sufficiently competent to use software to design objects.

Home depot doesn’t have to fret about cunning consumers fashioning their own plumbing fittings or garden furniture using the printers. Only certain materials can be printed in the MakerBot machine – excluding metal, of course – and it takes about an hour to print one chess piece. And you have to return to Home Depot to buy the 3D equivalent of printer cartridges.

Nonetheless, the US consumer market for 3D printing will reach US$600 million in 2017, up from around US$70 million last year, according to Kenneth Wong, an analyst at Citigroup Inc.

GE Capital fined $1.5 million
The Federal Court has hit consumer credit provider GE Capital Finance Australia, which trades as GE Money, with a $1.5 million fine for misleading representations to more than 700,000 of its credit card customers.

The court found that in the first half of 2012 GE Capital told credit card customers that to activate their credit card, or apply for or obtain an increased credit limit, the customer also had to consent to receiving invitations to apply for credit limit increases.

GE Capital engaged in the conduct shortly before the Government’s prohibition on unsolicited invitations to increase credit card limits came into effect.

The court found that, ‘the contraventions were serious and the reach of GE Capital’s conduct was extensive and substantial [and that it] was a systematic and deliberate attempt to mislead cardholders into giving their consent to receive invitations for future credit increases so as to avoid losses of up to $6 million which were projected to be suffered by GE Capital as a result of the tightening regulatory environment.’

The court also made orders requiring GE Capital to pay ASIC $50,000 for its costs and to advise cardholders what the decision means for them by sending emails or letters to approximately 210,000 affected cardholders and by publishing a notice on its website.

During the court proceedings, GE Money admitted to breaking the law.

The decision comes shortly after the US GE Capital credit card business agreed to pay US$228.5 million to settle US Federal allegations it violated consumer-protection laws.

The company, whose North American consumer-lending operations are being spun off into a new company called Synchrony Financial, settled allegations by the Justice Department and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau it excluded Spanish-speaking borrowers from offers to help them with their debt.

It agreed to pay US$169 million to about 108,000 borrowers to resolve that piece of the settlement. The company also agreed to pay US$56 million to resolve CFPB allegations that it deceived consumers into signing up for extra credit-card products they didn’t intend to purchase. The firm will compensate about 638,000 credit-card customers under the settlement. The CFPB settlement also included a US$3.5 million fine.

But it’s not all bad news for the consumer credit behemoth. Coles (one of the companies named in GE Capital’s Federal Court case) has announced a joint venture with GE Capital Australia to provide Coles-branded credit cards and personal finance products such as small loans. The 50-50 joint venture will commence operations during 2015.






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