Apps and oranges: Behind Apple’s ‘bullying’ over trademarks
The company has protested singer-songwriters, school districts and food blogs are trying to trademark names or logos featuring apples – or pears or pineapples.
Ryan Mack reported from Los Angeles and Kellen Browning from San Francisco.
When Genevieve St. John started a sex-and-life coaching blog in 2019, she designed a logo for the business, a neon green and pink apple that was cut open to resemble female genitalia.
Shortly after applying to register the logo with the US Patent and Trademark Office that year, Ms. St. John received an unpleasant surprise. Her request was challenged – by Apple.
In a 246-page protest filing, lawyers for the iPhone maker wrote that Ms. St. John’s logo “is likely to tarnish the reputation of Apple, which Apple itself has made by attempting not to openly associate sexual or pornographic content.” have developed.”
Ms. St. John, 41, was crestfallen, a human resources professional in Chandler, Ariz. Without the money to hire a lawyer and take on the tech giant, he decided not to respond to Apple’s challenge. This paved the way for a default decision in favor of the electronics giant.
“I wasn’t even making money from it,” Ms. St. John said of her blog, which she has on hiatus. “But this is Apple, and I’m not going to argue with them because I don’t have a million dollars.”
Ms. St. John is one of dozens of entrepreneurs, small businesses and corporations that Apple has adopted in recent years to apply to trademark names with the word “apple” or the stemmed fruit logo. According to the Tech Transparency Project, a non-profit watchdog, between 2019 and last year, Apple, the world’s most valuable public company, worth $2.6 trillion, filed 215 trademark protests to protect its logo, name or product title. Did it The group said this is more than an estimated 136 trademark protests that Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook and Google had collectively filed over the same period.
Apple is a more generic term than corporate names like Microsoft or Google, and the high rate partly stems from that. Many copycats, especially in China, have tried to draft the Apple name or logo in the tech and entertainment industries to make money.
But Apple has often targeted entities that have nothing to do with technology or that are limitless in size. It has also shifted its focus to the logo which includes other fruits like oranges and pears.
Its mines include an Indian food blog, the Department of Energy, a Wisconsin public school district, and Mattel, which makes apples to apples from the hit card game. Apple also objected to the orange logo used by a curbside pickup start-up called Citrus. Last year, a dispute with a meal planning app called Prepear was settled after the app’s maker agreed to change a leaf on its Pear logo to make it look less like Apple.
“The scale of the company’s campaign is “bullying tactics, and they are unnecessary for Apple to protect the public from confusion,” said Christine Farley, a professor at the American University of Washington College of Law.
citrus; Department of Energy; The company behind Super Healthy Kids, Prepper; And the Patent and Trademark Office declined to comment. Mattel did not respond to requests for comment.
Apple spokesman Josh Rosenstock said the law “requires” that the company protect its trademarks by filing a protest with the Patent and Trademark Office if there are concerns with new trademark applications.
“When we see applications that are overly broad or may confuse our customers, our first step is always to reach out and try to resolve these quickly and amicably.” “Legal action is always our last resort.”
Apple files a trademark protest against entities that have already received approval for the logo or name from the Patent and Trademark Office. In those protests, the company has argued that “Apple’s marks are so well-known and immediately recognizable” that other trademarks would undermine the strength of its brand or “cause the general consumer to believe that the applicant is related, affiliated or is supported. “
Some of those targeted said that while they were convinced their trademark did not infringe Apple’s domain, they could not show that the challenges were trivial because they had to fight the company before the Trademark Trial and Appeals Board. There were no resources. Between 2019 and 2021, 37 entities, or about 17 percent of those opposed by Apple or its subsidiary Beats Electronics, withdrew their trademark applications. Another 127 individuals or organizations, or 59 percent, did not respond to challenges and missed out, according to data from the Tech Transparency Project.
Stephanie Carlissi, a freelance singer-songwriter, said she was shocked when Apple took issue with the trademark of her stage name Frankie Pineapple in 2020. In the filing, Apple acknowledged that an apple and a pineapple were different, but said they were “both.” The names of the fruits, and thus convey a similar commercial effect.” According to the documents, the company also considered objecting to Ms. Carlissi’s logo, an explosive pineapple grenade.
“It’s not even an apple,” said Ms. Carlissi, 46, who just started releasing music and has seven monthly listeners on Spotify. “You’re telling people that they can’t fair use of fruit or anything that has to do with Apple, this juggling company.”
Founded in 1974, the company originally known as Apple Computer was not always so controversial. According to the Tech Transparency Project, prior to 2000, it filed just a few trademark protests each year, up from nine in 1989. At least one of those protests was from an electronics retailer that sold computer parts under the name “Pineapple”.
In those years, Apple Computer was known as the defendant in trademark cases. In 1978, Apple Corps, the holding company founded by the Beatles, sued Apple Computer for trademark infringement, the first salvo in a series of legal disputes between the two companies over the coming decades. In 2007, both Apples finally agreed to give all trademarks related to “Apple” to the Silicon Valley company.
By then, Apple, which had removed “computer” from its name, was filing dozens of trademark protests annually.
As Apple grew, its legal team wanted to stop the dilution of the brand, said New York University Law School professor Barton Beebe. In intellectual property theory, the legal argument is not that one would be confused by two different trademarks, but that giving a new one would reduce the value of a domestic logo or name, he said.
“Vulnerability is death by a thousand cuts, and you’ve got to stop the first cut,” said Mr Beebe. “That’s the argument for the judges.”
Since then, Apple has created a template for challenging trademark applications, said Ashley Dobbs, a law professor at the University of Richmond. This is evident in the comparison of his responses to the two applicants, where he used cookie-cutter oppositional language.
One response was a 16,000-student public education system in the Appleton Area School District, Appleton, Wis., which has the logo of three interlocked apples. The other was Big Apple Curry, a New York City Indian cooking blog named after it. In Apple’s filing against them, entire sections were copied word-for-word to establish the company’s brand value — an “estimated valuation of $206 billion” by Forbes in 2019 — and its “of fame and consumer recognition.” extraordinary level.”
Representatives for the school district and Big Apple Curry, who have both turned down their applications, declined to comment.
“Cost efficiency is going after many people with the same argument,” Ms. Dobbs said. He said Apple has left other companies — such as Disney and Warner Bros. — in litigation over intellectual property.
Sometimes Apple will ask the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board for an extension to file against a new trademark and then contact that entrepreneur or business to change its application. Lacey Brown, 38, an Atlanta artist who cartooned a fictional witch doctor named Dr. Apple, said it was “devastating” when Apple asked for more time to potentially challenge its trademark application in 2020. Submitted paperwork. He narrowed it down. The trademark request followed discussions with lawyers for Apple, who never filed an official protest.
But last year, Apple took issue when Ms. Brown attempted to trademark her podcast, “Talk About Apples,” which was based on her Dr. The apple was based on the character. In opposition to this, the company argued that people may confuse its podcast with its podcast service.
“It’s an African American witch doctor talking about fantasy fiction and demons and ghosts,” Ms. Brown said. “No one has ever affiliated me with Apple in any way.” Yet he withdrew the trademark application for his podcast.
In 2019, Dr. Surya Reddy applied to trademark the logo and name of Apple Urgent Care, which runs clinics in Riverside County, California. Apple protested, noting that its logo, like its logo, consisted of an apple with an apple slice and an “angle-separated leaf”.
Dr Reddy said he thought Apple’s case was ridiculous because it was not a medical care provider. But he didn’t have the money to test that theory and dropped his application.
“I’m a small company,” he said. “Once they object, you feel very little.”
However, Ms. Carlissi responded to Apple in court and secured a concession. The company agreed to stop pursuing its protest if it included a disclaimer on its trademark application stating that Frankie Pineapple – a nod to his late father, Frankie, and Fruit, sometimes referred to as a rebel. , was regarded as a feminist symbol – her real name was not. ,
While the legal enhancement cost her about $10,000, Ms. Carlissi got some inspiration from it. She said that her first single, which is about sticking it to the man and uses a famous slang, was inspired by her fight with Apple.
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