Opinion: Rethinking The T-Mobile Lawsuit Against Aio Wireless

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Photo copyright Melanie Edwards/ellamedia.com

When I decided to write a mini opinion/editorial on the news that T-Mobile is suing Aio Wireless over the use of Magenta, I honestly didn’t expect such a strong response. I’m not sure why anyone believed I was writing it from the perspective of a legal analyst, I’m no more a legal analyst than I am a professional baseball player. That being said, my concern isn’t whether T-Mobile has a right to protect their trademarks or copyrights, I believe they do… my concern is that of perception. I worry is that it will come off looking as though T-Mobile intends to argue that they own the entire spectrum of the color, not the exact color of Magenta which they in fact do own.

One commenter (hi kalel33!) put it best by saying Caterpillar owns a trademark on a specific color of yellow but all heavy construction equipment are yellow. John Deere owns a specific color of green but there are dozens of other companies making green lawn mowers. Is that the argument I’d bring to court, of course not…but I’m also not a lawyer.

I remain concerned about the fact that T-Mobile and more specifically  CEO John Legere has made a habit of attacking AT&T via Twitter, press events, Bloomberg, CNBC and more. How will this lawsuit be interpreted? T-Mobile defending its brand, finding a potential weak spot in AT&T’s suit of armor and exploiting it or nothing more than frivolous lawsuit? I imagine T-Mobile may have to prove the use of the color was intentionally designed to mislead customers, and/or that customers are truly confused by the two shades and believe based on the color that Aio Wireless is a T-Mobile entity.

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Photo copyright Melanie Edwards/ellamedia.com

All that said, the comment that brought up the John Deere/Caterpillar metaphor provided a link to this Orlando launch event (pictured above and below) of Aio and yeah…it totally looks like it could be confused for a T-Mobile party. So, perhaps my response was hasty and since I’m not a professional journalist with my head stuck in the sand, I have no problem admitting to being wrong. At least I feel partly wrong in the sense that I didn’t think my readers or T-Mobile customers in general would feel so strongly that this should move forward.

Let’s also talk about Aio’s use of the word “Simple” when describing their rate plans. Now, I’m not suggesting that anyone owns the word “Simple” and every carrier can and may use it, but in the case of Aio, it just looks funny.

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When you add all of this up, and when you consider the imagery, shades of color and verbiage, perhaps T-Mobile has more than enough ammunition to hit these guys with a lawsuit. My initial interpretation that perception of this lawsuit might bring back the negative memories when T-Mobile/Deutsche Telekom sued Engadget Mobile is something I’d like to avoid. I stand by the idea that I don’t want T-Mobile’s actions to be seen as frivolous or unnecessary and I’m afraid they might be. There has already been enough talking heads saying T-Mobile should drop its suit and just battle it out for customers and there’s an argument to be made for that. However, when you step back (something I hadn’t really done the day after the suit was filed) and read the comments you catch a different outlook, T-Mobile should vigorously defend its trademark.

One other idea: John Legere vs Ralph de la Vega cage match…winner takes the color.

Photo Credit: Photo copyright Melanie Edwards/ellamedia.com

 

Poll time:

 

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  • besweeet

    I voted for no. It’s like Apple suing over the shapes of icons.

    Sure, their colors are similar, but, for example, so are the colors from Cricket and Straight Talk. You don’t see those guys going after each other. It’s a ridiculous thing to even think about.

    • AndroidProfit

      I sometimes wonder if Johnny boy is the next, “A Beautiful Mind”. Someone needs to get over to his house and see if he has a secret room he twitters from.

  • http://twitter.com/SParKlngCyaNide SparklingCyanide

    I must commend you David on taking into consideration your readers opinion, as much as your own. I appreciate this follow up which you and your readers felt so strongly enough about to warrant it. As a side note the fact that I and many others refer to T-Mobile lovingly as “Magenta”, is enough reason to protect this precious brand recognition.

  • Deadeye37

    At first I was against the lawsuit because I thought it was a bit frivolous. However, seeing the ads directly attacking T-mobile & seeing their advertising, it definitely looks like Aio is trying to be a T-mobile clone (or can I use the term KIRF). Now, I think T-mobile does have a right to sue so that Aio can change their branding.

    I remember a local burger chain where I live called Chadders. Everything about the burger chain screamed In-n-Out knock-off, but there was no In-n-Out in the state at the time. A year later, 4 In-n-Outs open up in the area and suddenly no one was interested in Chadders. I don’t know how T-mobile service is in those areas where Aio is opening up, but if its sub-par, T-mobile should look at opening up the LTE floodgates in those regions and maybe T-mobile can do to Aio as In-n-Out did to Chadders. :)

  • MaseW

    I hadn’t been following this story very closely, and I am vehemently against lawsuits that seek to hurt competitors, but masquerade as something legitimate.

    But in this case, I don’t think that this lawsuit is frivolous at all. I’m not a lawyer, but from looking at how this new company is being presented, it seems pretty evident to me that Aio is attempting to introduce brand confusion with T-Mobile’s tradmarks.

    It seems like they are attempting to deflect any kind of accusation by saying that they are using a different “shade” of magenta than T-Mobile…but that just applies to the corporate logo. It’s pretty clear in the picture of the coverage map in the post, that they intend to use other shades of magenta. With the one used in that map, looking ridiculously similar to T-Mobile’s magenta.

    When you really examine the marketing materials for Aio, it starts to look pretty obvious that the color scheme and products offered, are at the very least “inspired” by T-Mobile’s colors and products. At worst, it is a blatant rip-off, attempting to dilute T-Mobile’s brand.

    T-Mobile should absolutely go after this company.

  • tmobiley

    Looks like there was some backroom deals made with David so he would come around and tow the official T-mobile line today. Maybe ATT is actually doing T-mobile a favor by having a closely looking color that some folks might be fooled into thinking a T-mobile store is actually an AIO/ATT store. Slim chance, but the same probability holds for the reverse and that seems to be what T-mobile is fighting for it seems.

    • http://tmonews.com David

      You must be joking if you think T-Mobile would ever invite me into a backroom, nevermind make any kind of “deal” with me. I’m not towing any official line, I still think the lawsuit is a stupid idea, I’m just trying to explain my position differently.

      The preliminary results of the poll are why I wrote this, look at how many disagreed with my idea that the lawsuit shouldn’t take place. I’m man enough to admit when I came to a decision on something too early.

      • AndroidProfit

        If you responded to all the paranoids within you forum you would NEVER have time to post new articles.

  • nerdlust

    At first I was going say a lawsuit would be silly however these ads are very close to tmobiles ads and the color the word choice all seem like tmobile. Aio is trying to steal some of tmobiles current success.

    • fsured

      I agree. At first I thought it was silly. That ad picture screams T-Mobile to me. I can see how people not as in-tuned with the industry players can think it is a T-Mobile product. The “bring your own device” really got me on board with going after ATT. I’ve never seen a company promote bring your own device before T-Mobile did.

      • 21stNow

        Most GSM prepaid service providers either advertise that you can bring your own device or inform their customers of the option. Red Pocket definitely has and has had the BYOD line on their website’s main page for quite some time.

    • josephsinger

      Starbucks chose to sue Rat City Roller Girls because they’re logo vaguely resembled Starbucks. Never mind that no one would likely confuse the roller derby type outfit with a coffee company. Starbucks felt they had the duty to defend a perceived violation of their trademark. http://ratcityrollergirls.com/ I guess it also counts that Starbucks decided to modify their trademark as well.

  • TrueCopy

    The thing is, T-Mobile doesn’t just have a right to protect their trademark/brand. They have a responsibility to do so. Part of owning a trademark is protecting even perceived infringement. T-Mobile probably has a pretty good case here.

  • â™ adeafmuteâ™ 

    This is clearly a deliberate attempt to mislead and confuse the average consumer (most Walmart customers can barely count to ten, let alone distinguish between two similar prepaid cellphone options)

    AT&T knows exactly what they are doing and I hope John Legere and T-Mobile bring the hammer on those evil mother f***ers!

  • Chris

    Screw AT&T. They are pure evil (as opposed to just mostly evil like most companies) and T-Mobile should destroy them. I’m not biased or anything tho >_>

  • Magentaalldway

    The ads looks so T-Mobile to me, very miselading. AT&T better be ready again to pay spectrum and $$$$ to TMO, they should win this one………………

  • Stephen Poore

    Don’t back down from your original thoughts. I think you’re right.

  • UMA_Fan

    I agree T-Mobile should protect it’s branding. But the major negative I see to this is that T-Mobile is bringing attention to AIO from people who otherwise never would have given it a second thought.

    • guest

      I agree. AT&T truly has a genius marketing department. T-MOBILE is practically forced to respond with a lawsuit. I wonder if there is a move that T-Mobile could make to get them to change color but without bringing so much attention to AIO.

    • http://www.volkswagen.de/ Quailallstar

      #1 rule in PR. Bad publicity makes for great exposure which leads to great [FREE] word of mouth advertising. I had never heard of AIO until this and checked out their rate plans.

      AIO / TMO

  • Paul

    “… T-Mobile intends to argue that they own the entire spectrum of the color…”
    I think Legere’s twitter has already shown that he thinks they do own the whole spectrum on magenta. I think T-Mobile would have made a better move by not publicisizing this move in the way Legere has. Funny tweets, but sometimes you have to act like an adult when it comes to business. Just my opinion of his move.
    If someone where to make a logo that was similar to John Deere’s, including color, but was just slightly off would John Deere sue them?
    My thought is that they likely would. You may agree or disagree, but that’s what opinions are for.
    If you drew a mouse character and made a cartoon with it, would Disney try to own your entore family?
    Yes, yes they would.
    Never read the article as anything other than your opinion, Dave. However, you sparked quite the riot in your forum.

    • http://tmonews.com David

      So I learned, hence the follow up. I think most people interpreted my writing as if T-Mobile has no right to defend their trademarks and I believe they do, but pick and choose your battles.

  • Gator Nation

    when i first saw the pics with out reading the article. I thought cool, t mobile is launching a new prepaid service. This coming from someone that was in at t mobile contact center for 10 years.

  • SmartAss

    If T-Mobile was getting sued by AT&T for the same reasons, everyone on this forum would be complaining that the evil AT&T is picking on T-Mobile for no reason. A little objectivity goes a long way.

    • GinaDee

      Exactly. T-Mobile is just looking for cash to build out it’s LTE network and it has resorted to frivolous lawsuits. Amazing.

      • Spanky

        Love them or hate them, AT&T has a lot more resources at their disposal. I wouldn’t be surprised if they make it difficult for T-Mobile and drag this all the way to trial, just to get even for all the grief John Legere has been giving them.

    • JJCommonSense

      If T-mobile did something similar they’d deserve to be sued. But since a Magenta T doesn’t look like a blue circle….. whats your point?

    • BigMixxx

      They have a point. It’s a direct attack (‘Time to say goodbye to T-mobile’) vs a prepaid industry attack. Why not simple, or Walmart Family Or anyone else? These are markets where ATT lost some of it’s share with the fallout.

      Smart move on T mobile part. hold up the nationwide rollout for a lawsuit and make ATT change what they are insinuating. I feel like they will be forced to compete with themselves.

      • SmartAss

        What about all the direct attacks on AT&T from John Legere?

        • Roger Sales

          One man’s opinion + free speech. He IS a CEO, but he’s not T-Mobile. T-Mobile is an entity that can speak on its own through commercials and the internet, just like all the other carriers. The other CEO’s trash the competition all the time, they just do it via press releases and interviews, not Twitter and Facebook.

          To make things simpler: Being able to sue John Legere would open the door to sue every 16 year old girl in America for anything.

    • Roger Sales

      As much as I hate frivolous lawsuits, this one has a LOT of merit. The color on its own is fairly harmless, but tie in the wording and the style of presentation and you can tell AT&T was totally provoking this.

      If you still think it’s a dumb idea, consider this: the average consumer despite more technological information about wireless still knows VERY little about it. Most people don’t know there is a difference between 4G HSPA+, 4G Wimax, and 4G LTE. Most people don’t even know why 4G is better than 3G.

      Your parents and your grandparents aren’t going to look at Aio wireless’ plans and think to themselves “This is an AT&T prepaid carrier”, They’ll notice the colors and they’ll legitimately be under the impression(despite the wording) that this is related to T-Mobile somehow.

      If color wasn’t such a big deal, why not pick blue or orange or both? Because AT&T knows they have a bad reputation and their colors have been part of the stigma.

  • S. Ali

    I’m glad I run ad-block on this site so you don’t get any ad-revenue from these link-bait articles. There are a lot of things to hate about T-mobile, but this isn’t most definitely not one of them. The least you could have done was talked to a lawyer to see why T-mobile does in-fact have a case here. Instead you tried (again) to hide your lack of due diligence behind the “opinion” banner. Shameful.

    • John

      Since when is it such a crime for someone to express an opinion – especially when that person owns the site on which the opinion is expressed? Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

    • http://www.volkswagen.de/ Quailallstar

      Your profile pic just made me hungry.

    • http://tmonews.com David

      Awesome, but you’re still hearing giving me a pageview so you’re still contributing to the financial success of the site. Thanks! The site runs and maintains itself on ads, telling me I’m doing something for pageviews isn’t insulting, every blogger under the sun, from The Verge all the way down to the guy with 10 readers posts stuff for pageviews. That’s not an insult, it’s reality.

    • JJCommonSense

      Were you “link-baited” to the site? or did you type in the web address by choice? The LEAST he needed to do was to post his OPINION on a BLOG SITE…. Mission accomplished. If you disagree then lets talk about it. But this isn’t investigative reporting it’s a freaking blog site. Thats whats wrong with America today… we look at blog sites and try to treat them like its the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. If you didn’t like the opinion expressed in this here blog ya didn’t have to come here….. But one thing is true… YOU SIR ARE A TROLL! I hereby knight ye: Alabaster Ali.. NOW YOU ARE BANISHED FROM THE MAGENTA MOUNTAINS AND MAY YE BE FORCED TO SUFFER A FATE AKIN TO A CRICKET WIRELESS CONNECTION WITH A 3 YEAR VERIZON WIRELESS CONTRACT! Happy Streaming!

  • Don Kim

    I thought the lawsuit was ridiculous at first.
    But seeing the way Aio is using the term ‘SImple’ on their rate plans,
    I’ve changed my thoughts.
    T-Mo should sue the heck out of this little prepaid company and let them pay.

    • Otto von Schlunzenstück

      This little prepaid company happens to be AT&T Wireless.

      • Ben Jammin’

        AT&T Mobility. AT&T Wireless was the company that was purchased by Cingular back in the day. Cingular later rebranded themselves to AT&T and then …

        Oh forget it. The company still sucks.

  • taron19119

    people are missing something do you not see bring your own devices everything there doing is very reminiscent of tmobile

    • 21stNow

      There’s only so many different things left to do in prepaid wireless today. Red Pocket tells customers to bring their own devices. Simple Mobile obviously uses the word Simple. Republic Wireless uses the wood background on the splash area of the website, similar to what you see on Aio’s website. I’m sure that there are other similarities to existing services, and similarities among other existing services.

  • JJCommonSense

    This was CLEARLY an attempt by AT&T to draw T-Mobile into a publicity scuffle. “Simple Rate Plans”? sounds/looks alot like “Simple Choice Plans” to someone with untrained perception…. Especially when the whole color scheme of the website is Magenta(ish) and Grey…. Why didn’t they bum off their own colors? That said……….. their prices do look a bit tempting… and if they’re using AT&T’s LTE um……. I’m sorry but on my T-MO GS4 I’ve never had a speedtest do over 13mbps in LTE or HSPA+ on a good day 9mbps avg…. yet I have run speedtests on numerous AT&T phones and 13mbps is on the slow end for them….. in the Chicago area @ least… T-mobile might want to crack open that hose a bit or I might have to consider taking advantage of a concession account w/ Big Blue….

    • John

      AIO throttles HSPA+ to 4MBps and LTE to 8Mbps, read the ToS, and don’t switch for the speed.

      • Roger Sales

        its funny they said throttle HSPA+ to 4MBps, because I can’t remember the last time I saw an AT&T HSPA+ speedtest that was over 2-3 mbps unthrottled. lololol

  • BigMixxx

    it is AWFULLY close in color and ‘wireless perspective’.

    This is the new leap wireless, I believe. It is the only thing that makes sense to me.

  • landmarkcm

    Im not really caring abt the color but I can see how Tmo would be upset. But I cannot tell a lie. I will happily switch to Aio when they launch nationwide soon. Right now im using my Tmobile L9 on GoPhone 60.00 smartphone plans & its better for me.. So I will probably switch to Aio. It’s all about competion baby. I used to be anti At&t but I am a consumer and this is a good deal and much better network! I also dont like how Tmo doesnt allow call forwarding for apps like youmail on there prepaid.

  • PurpleRain

    After seeing that first picture of the Orlando event I thought, “Man, Carly put on a lot of weight since she got dumped. Girls have a real hard time handling rejection.”

    And then I went on to read that Barney signed up with the Lakers, now that Tmo is giving up on the lawsuit against him and his friends to dedicate its time against att.

  • landmarkcm

    May have to stick with what I got strang Aio doesn’t allow short codes..
    And I get alot of them the free ones & UPS alerts and my bank etc.
    Strange Aio doesn’t let them through when At&t’s own GoPhone does.. Always something right..Such is life

  • achusaysblessyou

    Just to say, I’m not a fan of lawsuits that lack common sense (ie. patent trolling, women spilling McD coffee on herself, etc). However, in this case, Aio Wireless’s launch event does cause some amount of deja-vu when i saw the pictures and that is solid ground for T-Mobile because if the average consumer can associate another company’s branding with yours, then you can prove that they’re piggybacking off your reputation and could potentially hurt it by providing sub-par service.

    Disclaimer: I am a T-Mo fanboy and a part of me is drinking the Legere cool-aid (he’s just awesome) and so far he’s doing a good job so if he’s willing to take the risk to T-Mobile’s reputation, then I believe he’s got a good reason.

    • jeremy

      FYI, the lady that sued McDonalds only wanted them to pay for her medical bills, which were around $20,000 as she had to be hospitalized for 3rd degree burns.

      Back on topic, looking at the screen shots of aio’s website I thought it was Tmobile’s at first, especially with the “simple rate plans”

    • philyew

      McDonald’s and other interested parties have conducted a lengthy campaign via the internet to discredit the coffee action.

      Take a look at the photos of her injuries and the history of related complaints that preceded her injuries which the company failed to act on.

      There was something inherently wrong with their holding policy which has been subsequently corrected, but at the expense of adding insult to injury for the complainant.

  • galaxymaniac

    ok, so now almost all of the blogosphere knows about AIO wireless and how their prices compete with T-mobile’s but run on ATT’s network … all due to T-mobile … great publicity for AIO, I never heard of them before, now that I heard about them and checked out their website, their plans look really good.

    • Chilehead

      Go for it! It’s a free market after all.

    • RedGeminiPA

      Read the fine print. AIO charges an activation fee, unlike any other prepaid company. Also, their data speeds are capped, so you really can’t use the full speeds of AT&T’s network, especially for LTE.

  • MARGYVER

    P.S. They also say “bring your own device” which was a major advertisement used by tmobile so I’d say yeah they’re trying to steal some customers

    • RedGeminiPA

      Bring your own device isn’t exactly unique, either. Straight Talk and Net10 say the same thing. Many others have done it well before any of the aforementioned companies started doing it.

  • jdubtrey

    I’m neither a TMo nor AT&T/Aio subscriber. I’ve seen Aio advertisments and web pages since they were launched. I can say with 100% certianty that I have never confused the two at any point. They simply aren’t the same color to me.

    As for other posters who were convinced by pictures here: of course you are going to think of tmobile first when visiting TMonews.

    Simple mobile and straight talk shared colors even before they were co-owned. There are two “V” brands that use red.

    I’m not even sure if or how possibly being confused with TMobile helps Aio. TMo has better speeds but a smaller coverage area.

    • PurpleRain

      Exactly. The problem that David faced was that most visitors of this site are either tmo fanbois or tmo employees. The average consumer doesn’t have a clue of what “Magenta” is, let alone associate it with a cell phone company.

      I say that AT&T knew what they were doing and they wanted to confuse the uninformed customers. This is done legally all over, just visit your supermarket and you will see how many products ‘look’ like the main brand. In the mean time they are getting free PR. A win-win it seems.

      What tmo is missing is the idea that a bigger company is copying them. So they are being perceived as doing something right. They should be using AT&T’s promo to their advantage, like “look at the giant trying to imitate us” and not to draw petty publicity.

      In the mean time David has become a prisoner of his own creation. Even if tmo doesn’t officially contact David about a dissenting article, their minions will rise to defend them. While David doesn’t feel the need to cater to tmo, he will respond to his readers, because they are his employers.

      My suggestion to David is diversify the types of minions. They are not objective, their heart speak louder than their minds. Too bad cellnews.com is taken already.

  • Trevnerdio

    Respect, David.
    Also, that gathering has T-Mobile written all over it…wow.

  • that guy

    screw that ill turn this into a class action law suite. sue they ass

  • Store Rep

    So I suppose when AIO introduces their new tall, leather-clad brunette spokeswoman “Harley”, T-Mo should just see that as a coinckeedink? Riiiiiiiigggggghhhhttttt

  • rdg666

    Leave it to AT&T to pull a stunt like this. Seriously, they obviously now view T-Mobile as competition and a true threat. I mean, how many of their customers have switched over to T-Mo in the past few months??

  • Ghettoassnukka

    You are a racist piece of sh|t

  • http://tmonews.com David

    Deleted and banned.