How 2 Italian entrepreneurs trademarked Steve Jobs

steve jobs napoli

Steve Jobs’ smartphones could be running Android OS within a few years, and you have to brothers from Naples to thank for this exquisite paradox. Their story is so peculiar that, if someone had written it as a screenplay, they would have been accused of lacking credibility. In a textbook “David vs Goliath” move, Vincenzo and Giacomo Barbato won the legal case against Apple and are now the official owners of the name “Steve Jobs”, which was originally presented as a clothing brand, but may also start selling consumer electronics – although that might prompt a fresh lawsuit against them by the Cupertino company, which will likely be more careful of legal loopholes in the future.

If Steve Jobs were born in Naples…

If Steve Jobs were born in Naples” is the title of a 2012 book by Antonio Menna, detailing the misadventures of two young computer geniuses, fighting to develop their ideas and their potential in Southern Italy, within a system that – unlike California in the 80s – does not make it easy for young talent to emerge. The author was overtly accusing Italy of crushing its own talent, by making it impossible for anyone with a brilliant idea to succeed in the byzantine and often murky maze of Italian bureaucracy. Technically, in 2012, Steve Jobs was born in Naples, or at least the brand by that name as. It’s not clear whether Menna’s book sparked the Barbato brothers’ curiosity, prompting them to investigate the brand name “Steve Jobs”. When they did research it, however, they made an interesting discovery: Apple Inc had neglected to trademark the name Steve Jobs, so they did. They intended to launch a clothing brand and they created a cheeky logo for it, adding a bite mark to the “J” in “Jobs”. Predictably, they were hit by a colossal lawsuit which, less predictably, they recently won.

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The big J

Apple’s lawsuit focused on the logo, particularly on the bite mark, which they alleged was copying their own. This proved to be a fatal mistake. The court finally deliberated that, since the letter “J” is not a physical – much less edible – item, but a graphic sign, the bite mark can’t be considered to be copying Apple’s logo and is therefore a legitimate trademark. Having won their battle, the Barbato brothers proceeded to trademark the name in other countries too and are now happily selling clothing and accessories under the name of Apple’s iconic cofounder and planning to expand. They implied in several interviews that they would like to branch out into consumer electronics and they have already sponsored a console videogame that will hit the market in a few months. However they are aware that, were their products to overlap with Apple’s core production, they could be looking at another lawsuit. They also maintain that they were inspired by their namesake to “stay hungry and foolish” and therefore are open to young talent and willing to support any worthy and truly innovative project that will be submitted to them.

The narrative

Whether you consider Vincenzo and Giacomo Barbato to be clever geniuses or sneaky tricksters, one thing is indisputable: their narrative is a marketing winner. The young, fresh-faced entrepreneurs from a disadvantaged region, taking on the heartless, faceless corporate behemoth and winning against all odds. If one wanted to be cynical, this could be considered a superb marketing strategy, playing on our innate desire to see the weak take their revenge on the strong, the disenfranchised daring to challenge the super-powerful and being successful. If there is an embodiment of the American dream outside of America, this is probably it.

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She is a part-time digital nomad. She would go full-time, if only she could stay away from Berlin for long enough without pining for a Pretzel. She was born in Italy and she enjoys life as an expat, but visits home often enough and can still remember how to bake a perfect lasagna. She is passionate about writing, marketing, languages and the systematic demolition of cultural stereotypes.

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