For decades the Beatles and Apple Computer, Inc were frenemies.

Entities associated with The Beatles sued Apple Computer, Inc three times over almost three decades. They were big cases, they cost a lot to run. They cost Apple Computer even more to settle.

This mostly trade mark dispute story has been retold many times. It’s the frenemy relationship notion that interest us here.

To protect their claim to the “Apple” name when associated with music products and services, The Beatles entities in 1978 started a court case against Apple Computer, Inc, established in 1976."apple_records_collection"

The Beatles began from a position of strength in law and funds. They had a reputation, in the 1960s they started a record label named Apple Records, later a holding company named Apple Corp. In 1978 they had more money than Apple Computer, Inc.

They were taking on two fans who started a computer company in a California garage.

Fans like to pay homage. Perhaps those two should have called their company “Steve & Steve” or “SJSW” or “JobsWos”, as their names were Steve Wosniak and Steve Jobs. Instead, they stuck with “apple” followed by a descriptor, “computer”.

In 1978 computers and music were different industries. With each decade they got closer, The Beatles saw more pots of gold for which to sue.


Obsessed fans and healthy fans, war and diplomacy, enemy and friend. These polarities merge in the word “frenemy”.

The polarities are common in legal dispute resolution too. In litigation lawyers call communication to their opponent “open communication” or “pleadings”, while diplomacy-style communication is termed “without prejudice” communication and is not seen by judges. All this helps resolve disputes in creative ways. If you know a better system – Take me to your leader!

Finally, in 2009 Apple settled with The Beatles, it seems forever. Apple dropped the word “computer” from its name to become simply Apple, Inc. The Beatles licensed release of their albums on Apple’s iTunes Store.  Aah friends again.

Well we all need someone we can lean on. Apple now has a new frenemy, Samsung.

The friend half of the story, quoting The Economist is this: “Apple is one of Samsung’s largest customers, and Samsung is one of Apple’s biggest suppliers. This is actually part of Samsung’s business model: acting as a supplier of components for others gives it the scale to produce its own products more cheaply.”

Long ago it was said Apple wanted to be the new Sony. It surpassed Sony.Now Samsung wants to be the new Sony. Apple sees it friend, Samsung, becoming a frenemy.

"ipad_threeviews"The result? Apple and Samsung are locked in 2011 in 19 lawsuits, in 12 courts, in 9 countries, including Australia. Apple’s claim in these cases is that Samsung’s range of Android phones and Galaxy tablets have product design which unlawfully copies the iPhone and iPad and breaches Apple’s patents in some features. Often patent litigation seeks to secure license fees. If Samsung is liable, and Apples does not wish to licence, the stakes may be higher.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing to be a frenemy, sometimes it’s realistic. This recalls the sage advice “keep your friends close, and your enemies even closer”.

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Noric Dilanchian