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Apple pipped to Nano name by arch-rival

Legal battle brewing?

Apple may have handed its loss-making MP3 player rival, Creative, an opportunity to win a significant victory in the company's self-proclaimed "war" against the iPod maker.

Apple's iPod Nano grabbed the headlines this week, but Creative's Zen Nano has the advantage of coming to market ahead of its rival. Creative launched the Zen Nano in March. Initially available in Asia, the screen-equipped, Flash-based compact music player shipped in Europe as the Zen Nano Plus soon after.

Like the Apple product, Creative's player - a rebranded version of the MuVo N200, which shipped almost a year ago - comes in patent black and shiny white, not to mention half-a-dozen other colours.

A Creative spokesman acknowledged Apple's use of the Nano name long after the Zen's arrival, and confirmed that the company's legal department was also aware of the matter. However, he would not comment on any action Creative may or may not take.

As a unit of measurement, nano is not a name that any company can trademark. However, Creative could argue Apple is attempting to trade on the back of an established product. Given Apple's historical willingness to set its legal hounds on computer companies whose products have appeared a little too similar to its own, there would be some poetic justice in Creative going after Apple on the same grounds.

Apple's naming gaffe comes a week after Creative emerged as the holder of a patent that appears to cover the iPod's user interface. Ironically, Creative's own UI has been getting progressively more iPod-like over the last few years, so the company is not above borrowing from its rival. Now, it seems, Apple is returning the favour.

Separately, other Apple rivals are piqued that Samsung allegedly gave the iPod maker big discounts on Flash memory, based on the size of its order.

“Memory chips affect more than 50 per cent of MP3 players' prices," said one Apple rival, according to South Korean newspaper the Chosun Ilbo. "Apple presumably bought the flash memory chips at a 50 per cent discount from Samsung.”

Samsung won't say how big a break it offered Apple. “I can’t tell you the discount rate," said Samsung executive Joo Woo-sik, "but it stands to reason that we expand the range of discount rates for a big buyer like Apple."

He added: "Samsung didn’t mean to do any harm to domestic MP3 manufacturers.” ®

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