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Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Apple\'s Trademark of ‘iWatch\' Fuels Speculation

Apple has moved to register “iWatch” as a trademark in several countries, fueling speculation that the company is working on a gadget worn on the wrist that does a lot more than keep the time.

Over the past month, Apple has sought trademark protection for the term in at least four places: Taiwan, Russia, Mexico and Japan. The flurry of moves to seek ownership of the iWatch name suggests that a high-technology wristwatch may soon join the iPod, iPhone and iPad in Apple's lineup, analysts said.

An Apple watch could be a landmark in the development of so-called wearable technology, which turns the human body into a mobile computing and communications platform.

“Yes, the iWatch is going to come, and it has already triggered a lot of similar products from the competition,” said Tom Kang, an analyst at Counterpoint Research. “It will definitely be a significant steppingstone, in our view.”

As usual, Apple is being secretive about its intention s. It declined to comment on the applications for trademark protection.

An application that Apple filed with Taiwan's Intellectual Property Office last month provides only sketchy information, showing an iWatch logo in capital letters. Under the heading “device color,” it states, “black.”

The Taiwan application seeks to protect the iWatch name in two product categories, under international standards for trademarks. These include a class that covers a range of electronic and technology products, from computer software to “fire extinguishing equipment,” as well as a second category including “horological and chronometric instruments” and “precious metals and their alloys.”

Apple has filed similar applications in at least three other countries - Russia, Japan and Mexico - according to news reports. Copies of those applications could not immediately be obtained.

Securing the iWatch name globally could be challenging for Apple, though. An Italian software company, Probendi, has registered the name in the European Union.

Analysts said the filings did not necessarily mean that Apple planned to introduce a watch. The filings could simply be protective, an effort to prevent other companies from using the name. Or the iWatch name could be applied to an entirely different technology, like television.

The development of devices like Google Glass, a type of Internet-connected eyewear, has fueled excitement about wearable technology in the industry, which is looking for sources of growth beyond smartphones.

A number of companies, including Apple's biggest rival, Samsung Electronics, are said to be working on watches that synchronize with smartphones or that provide smartphone-like functions.

Several other companies already make such gadgets. Sony, for example, last year introduced the SmartWatch, which lets users play games, check Facebook pages or send text messages simply by tapping their wrists.

The SmartWatch does not actually make phone calls or provide Internet connections. Instead, it hooks up with smartphones running Google's Android operating system, using Bluetooth technology. Sony last week unveiled a successor, the SmartWatch 2.

Other watches with so-called smart functions include the I'm Watch and the Pebble Watch. While the features vary, gadgets like these generally include small touch screens and allow users to download applications that help them control their smartphones without having to pull them out of their pockets.

“Every company making a smart watch is finding its feet,” said Ian Fogg, an analyst at the research firm IHS. “Everyone knows it's something you wear on your wrist, but nobody knows what features consumers will want. Just as a smartphone isn't really about the phone, the smart watch is not really about telling time.”

While sales of these devices have been sluggish, analysts say an Apple watch may attract greater interest because of the company's flair for design and marketing, as well as its ability to tie new gadgets and applications into the Apple mobile operating system.

“We think entering the wearable device market will strengthen the Apple ecosystem,” Ming-Chi Kuo, an analyst at KGI Securities, wrote in a note to clients. “For example, it will offer more new applications, such as health applications, and upgrade the user experience by being highly integrated with existing Apple products.”