Apple vs. apples

Is Apple a trademark bully? A Swiss farming organization worries so.

Let’s review a few historical events:

  • 47 years ago: Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak founded Apple Computer Inc.
  • 111 years ago: Fruit Union Suisse, a farmer’s organization in Switzerland, was founded.
  • 5k+ years ago: Humans began cultivating apples.

As you can see, Big Tech Apple is the baby of the bunch, which is why this next bit is so confusing.

How about them apples?

Apple filed for IP rights on a black-and-white image of a Granny Smith apple with the Swiss Institute of Intellectual Property in 2017. Apple got some — but not all — rights, and filed an appeal earlier this year, per Wired.

As the courtroom fight continues, Fruit Union Suisse is concerned that if Apple receives broader rights, it might impact its ability to use its red apple logo.

Which sounds impossible, and yet…

… Apple’s done it before.

An investigation by the Tech Transparency Project found Apple filed 215 trademark oppositions between Jan. 1, 2019 and Dec. 31, 2021, including ones against the “Apples to Apples” card game and a podcast about an interdimensional witch doctor named Dr. Apples.

Focusing on the 118 oppositions involving US or Canadian applicants:

  • More than two-thirds targeted companies in unrelated industries.
  • Nearly 20% were related to education, a field often illustrated by apples.
  • Some were just using fruit: a musician’s trademark for her stage name, Franki Pineapple, and a company with a pear logo.

Smaller companies often can’t afford to fight, and may change their name or logo anyhow.

If this sounds familiar…

… it’s because we just talked about how Monster, the energy drink, does this with anyone who tries to use the word “monster.”

A paper on this so-called “trademark bullying” notes that India allows businesses to countersue for damages, and, on occasion, public shaming has worked…

… Though it’s hard to say if that would work on a company worth ~$2.9T.

Speaking of lawsuits: Apple once had to pay $21m for stealing a clock-face design from the Swiss Federal Railway.

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Topics: Apple

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