With it looking more and more like Apple is going to remove the headphone jack on the iPhone 7, we've seen considerable speculation and discussion about the transition to either wired Lightning headphones or Bluetooth options. Looking at the wireless possibilities, the first iPhone 7 headphone jack rumors immediately reminded us of an "AirPods" trademark filing we discovered last October that seemed likely to be linked to Apple, although conclusive proof could not be found at the time.
That AirPods trademark application was filed by a previously unknown company by the name of Entertainment in Flight LLC, which carried many of the hallmarks of being a shell company operated by Apple for the purposes of hiding its true identity. Apple has used such companies on many previous occasions, including for "iPad" and "CarPlay" that were ultimately used in product names and others such as "iWatch" that ended up scrapped in favor of other names.
As the AirPods trademark has continued through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office review process, additional documents have been filed that we believe confirm Apple is behind the filing while providing evidence Apple continues to have interest in protecting the name.
Just this week, the applicant amended its description of the goods to be covered under the AirPods trademark, responding to a January request from the trademark examiner to clarify some of the overly broad terms used in the original description. This week's filing was signed by Jonathan Brown, a "manager" for Entertainment in Flight, and it's the first time we've seen a name associated with the trademark application other than outside attorneys handling the case.
As a matter of fact, Apple employs an attorney by the name of Jonathan Brown in the role of "Senior Standards Counsel." While Brown describes his role as primarily dealing with technical standards organizations and open source software initiatives, he is involved with intellectual property matters and in prior positions at chipmaker Rambus he handled trademark and patent maintenance and litigation.
Given that Jonathan Brown is a fairly common name, we dug a little further to try to determine whether the manager at Entertainment in Flight and the attorney at Apple and Rambus are indeed the same person, and we came across a court filing from a 2010 civil case involving Rambus that includes a pair of Brown's signatures. While there is some variation among those two signatures and the one on the AirPods trademark document, they have enough in common that we believe these Jonathan Browns are the same person and thus Apple is behind the AirPods trademark application.
This week's amendment came one day prior to the six-month deadline for responding to the trademark office's request for clarification, indicating Apple remains interested in protecting the name but suggesting it is interested in stretching out the review process as long as possible with no product yet released.
Trademark protection ultimately requires that a "Statement of Use" be filed to prove the name is actually being used, and lengthening the review process gives the applicant additional time as it continues working on its product. By regulation, a Statement of Use must be filed within six months of the trademark being allowed, although five six-month extensions are permitted.
If Apple is indeed working on an AirPods product, it is likely a set of wireless earphones that would be a natural accessory for the iPhone, Apple Watch, and other devices. Given the cost of wireless earphones, it is likely the iPhone 7 would instead ship with Lightning-enabled wired earphones, with wireless AirPods sold separately. Apple was reportedly looking to launch wireless earphones this fall alongside the iPhone 7, but it's possible that timeline could be pushed back if the accessory is not ready for market.