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The Beatles on Monday buried their latest trademark dispute with US technology company Apple, removing one of the obstacles to a potential deal that could bring the Fab Four’s songs to the iTunes music store.
The two sides did not comment on whether a digital music deal, which has been widely anticipated, would follow.
However, Neil Aspinall, manager of Apple Corps, The Beatles’ record company, appeared to hint at the possibility of a future commercial relationship.
“We wish Apple Inc every success and look forward to many years of peaceful co-operation with them,” he said.
A deal to put The Beatles on iTunes was already under discussion before Monday’s settlement, according to a person familiar with the matter, although it is unclear how far the negotiations have got.
Bringing The Beatles to iTunes would open up a highly valued catalogue of songs and could represent a significant breakthrough for the entire digital music business, according to analysts.
There was already huge pent-up demand to buy Beatles music in digital form and many people over the age of 40 would be likely to turn to online purchases for the first time, said Richard Doherty, a digital media analyst at Envisioneering.
However, others cautioned that personal and legal complications could still stand in the way of a deal.
“The problem for Neil is he has four shareholders who have to approve every single thing, which doesn’t always happen,” one person familiar with the issue said.
The Beatles’ representatives have also been in a legal dispute with EMI, which owns the recording rights to the band’s music and would have to agree to an online deal.
The legal settlement came shortly before Apple Corps and Apple Inc were set to reopen their legal battle at an appeals court hearing in London.
Apple Corps had sued the US company, arguing that its use of the Apple brand for its digital music service broke a 1991 agreement between the two sides.
Last year, a High Court judge ruled in favour of Apple Inc. Under Monday’s settlement, the US company will own all the trademarks relating to the Apple name, and license “certain trademarks” back to Apple Corp. Each side will bear its own legal costs.
Mike Lynd, partner at intellectual property specialists Marks & Clerk, said it was “highly unusual” to see the original owner of a trademark relinquish ownership and control of its identifying mark.
“It seems fair to deduce that Apple Inc has paid a substantial sum for the record companies’ rights,” he said, pointing out that decades of goodwill had built up.
“We love The Beatles, and it has been painful being at odds with them over these trademarks,” Steve Jobs, chief executive officer of Apple, said in a statement.
“It feels great to resolve this in a positive manner, and in a way that should remove the potential for further disagreements in the future.”