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Apple's Secret Hiding Place

Even if it hadn't sought trademark protection in the U.S. prior to the launch, it could still get first dibs on the phrase or symbol related to the new product if it had applied for a trademark in another country in advance of the launch.

Apple's strategy of filing for trademark protection in foreign countries ahead of filing in the U.S. came to light with its recent application to protect the phrase "Mobile Me." The company filed to trademark the phrase -- potentially to cover a direct move into the mobile-phone business -- earlier this month in the U.S.

The company has yet to unveil a "Mobile Me" product or service. But evidently, it has been considering doing so for at least six months. Apple first filed to protect the phrase back in July in Hong Kong.

The company has followed a similar pattern with products it actually has released. Although it introduced the flash-memory based iPod nano last September, it didn't seek to trademark the product's name in the U.S. until December. But it had applied for trademark protection on the phrase way back in June in Hong Kong.

Similarly, Apple sought to trademark the phrase "Mac Mini" in Singapore in August 2004, some five months before the company actually unveiled its bargain-priced desktop computer .

To be sure, a trademark filing doesn't mean Apple actually will release a product or service bearing that name -- the company has abandoned dozens of trademarks around the world, such as iCandy in the U.S. or iRecords in Singapore.

And the company has held many other trademarks for years without ever applying them to an actual product or service. Among them: iWrite, which the company filed for in Hong Kong in September 2003, and iPhone, which the company filed for in Switzerland in April 2002.

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