To many people, and in particular those who own Apple products, the App Store is where consumers who own Apple products go to purchase applications for their hardware. These "apps" range from ones that explain how to do yoga poses to video games. Apple has submitted an application to have the name "App Store" registered as a trade mark.
Amazon also now has an Appstore, which it launched on 22 March 2011, offering downloadable applications for Google's Android operating system. Apple is now suing Amazon.com for an undisclosed amount of money and is seeking a ruling that prevents the company use the name "App Store". Apple claims that Amazon is using the "App Store" name without proper consent and that the name will "confuse and mislead" customers as they may believe that the service is endorsed or approved by Apple.
Apple didn't create the term "app" but it did make it popular by launching the "app store" and the corresponding "there's an app for that" advert. Apple is, however, generally credited with creating the phrase "app store".
This raises familiar questions about whether trade marks on generic terms inherently associated with a type of business are unfair. In recent years the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has granted many such trade marks, giving Microsoft ownership of "Windows" and "Word", and Adobe ownership of "Illustrator".
In general, such definitions are excluded from registration if they merely describe the kind, quality or other characteristics of the goods or services claimed. This is because competitors should be able to use such vocabulary for the designation of their products. Names such as this that are filed for application are examined and often refused by the examiner on absolute grounds i.e. the mark is descriptive and hence cannot be registered. If an application for such a name is successful it may also subsequently be cancelled as a result of an opposition procedure raised on the basis of its descriptive character.
Microsoft, also looking to move into the app marketplace, has asked officials to block Apple's trade mark attempt stating that the term "app store" is a generic one commonly used by companies, governments and individuals that offer apps and therefore competitors should be able to use it.
Apple's rebuttal to Microsoft's opposition reads:
Microsoft now asks the Board to summarily eradicate Apple's commercial rights in its App Store mark on the purported basis that App Store has become generic. Having itself faced a decades-long genericness challenge to its claimed Windows mark, Microsoft should be well aware that the focus in evaluating genericness is on the mark as a whole and requires a fact-intensive assessment of the primary significance of the term to a substantial majority of the relevant public. Yet, Microsoft, missing the forest for the trees, does not base its motion on a comprehensive evaluation of how the relevant public understands the term App Store as a whole.
This is not the first time that Apple has been involved in a trade mark dispute. After the iPhone launched in 2007, it became apparent that technology rival Cisco owned a trade mark for the name for a range of internet-based telephone handsets. The two companies eventually settled and have now agreed to share rights over the name. Moreover, Apple took almost 30 years to completely settle its conflict with Apple Corps, the record company founded by The Beatles.
The outcome of this latest legal battle remains to be seen but for now, consumers will have no problem continuing to use Apple's App Store assuming, of course, that they do not get confused and end up using Amazon's Appstore instead.