There is much speculation that Apple could be about to announce a new television product. It could be called the Apple iTV, following the naming scheme of the iPod, iPhone and iPad. British broadcaster ITV is not so keen on the name. Based on the success of the portable products, it could turn television into the next big business for Apple.

It has been widely suggested that Apple will launch an update of its television device, famously referred to by chief executive Steve Jobs as a “hobby”. Speaking at the All Things Digital conference in June, he said the problem with television devices was that they required an additional box with its own remote and a unique user interface. He described the global market for television, with different countries having different standards and approval processes as Balkanised.

“The only way that’s ever going to change,” he said, “is if you can really go back to square one, tear up the set top box, redesign it from scratch with a consistent UI across all these different functions, and get it to consumers in a way that they’re willing to pay for it. And right now there’s no way to do that.”

Such dismissals may be seen by some as an indication that Apple has indeed been thinking about how to do just that.

The speculation is that Apple will launch a box based on the same Apple iOS operating system as the iPhone and iPad, at a much lower price point, that could potentially run third-party applications in the same way as those devices, which could become powerful remote control interfaces.

When Apple first revealed plans for its set-top box in 2006 it was known as iTV but it was launched in January 2007 with the Apple logo and TV in lower case.

The Apple TV product failed to become as popular as the iPhone or the iPad, partly because it was a closed system. Opening the box up to third-party applications, officially, would greatly increase its utility.

With Google planning to extend its open source Android operating system to the television, and enable independent software developers to produce applications for it, Apple may need to learn from the success of the iPhone and the iPad, which become more powerful as products as more apps are available to extend their functions.

ITV brand
Whether Apple will be able to use the iTV moniker may depend on the attitude of British broadcaster ITV.

Mike Large, acting group director of communications at ITV said “We have a large number of registered trade marks for ITV and are a household brand of over 50 years.” He said that ITV had “vigorously defended” its brand name in the past.

While ITV claims a heritage of over half a century, the television brand is a more recent innovation.

The Independent Television Network was established in 1955 under the Independent Television Authority and for many decades consisted of independently branded regional franchises with their own identity. Although often collectively referred to as ITV, the network had no legal name until the 1990 Broadcasting Act which refers to it as Channel 3.

The ITV brand was developed in the late eighties to bring together the various local logos under the direction of an ITV Network Centre responsible for central commissioning. A logo was launched in 1989 but many regions continued to use their own identities for a further decade. A trade mark for the name ITV was filed by ITV Network Limited in the United Kingdom in 1997.

ITV plc was formed in 2004 from the merger of Granada and Carlton Communications and is the parent company of ITV Broadcasting Limited which has operated all the Channel 3 broadcasting licences since 2008, with the exception of STV and UTV which maintain their own identities. ITV Network Limited has trade marks for ITV in Europe and the United States from 2005.

ITV and iTV have also been used generically to refer to interactive television for many years.

Apple is no stranger to trade mark disputes and has a history of naming first and resolving rights second. A dispute with Apple Corp, the holding company founded by the Beatles, dating back to 1978 was not settled until 1981. A condition of the settlement was that Apple would not enter the music business, although it has certainly since benefited from the sales of music and music players. The matter was only finally resolved in 2007 with Apple paying to own all Apple trade marks and licensing some of them back to the music company.

Given the precedents, Apple could yet decide to use the iTV name, arguing that it is sufficiently distinctive and may well end up coming to terms with ITV, no doubt for a small consideration and some mutually beneficial marketing. ITV could do worse than work with one of the largest technology companies in the world to develop its online and interactive television strategy. It could continue with its own ambitions to develop a uniquely British solution.