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Microsoft disputes Apple's 'App Store' trademark

'It's just a store that sells apps'

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Microsoft is contesting Apple's trademark claim for the term "App Store", calling that term too generic to be granted protection.

"Apple seeks to exclusively appropriate the phrase 'App Store' for use with its own store offering apps," says Microsoft's Opposition filing with the US Trademark Trial and Appeal Board.

That appropriation is absurd, claims Microsoft. "The undisputed evidence shows that 'app store' is a generic name for a store offering apps," Redmond argues with tautological terseness.

Microsoft presents its argument on multiple fronts. At the most basic level, it presents what it calls two "undisputed facts":

  • "'App' is a common generic name for the goods offered at Apple's store, as shown in dictionary definitions and by widespread use by Apple and others.
  • 'Store' is generic for the 'retail store services' for which Apple seeks registration, and indeed, Apple refers to its 'App Store" as a store."

Redmond notes that the US Patent and Trademark Office has ruled against other such word combinations in the past, such as when it denied trademark protection for "The Computer Store", "Log Cabin Homes", "Candy Bouquet", and others.

The Opposition filing also includes the argument that "app store" is in common use to mean, well, an app store, and it cites none other than The Wizard of Cupertino's own words as one example: "Indeed, in a recent interview, Apple CEO Steve Jobs criticized the proliferation of app stores for Google's competing Android platform as follows," (emphasis in the original):

In addition to Google's own app marketplace, Amazon, Verizon and Vodafone have all announced that they are creating their own app stores for Android. There will be at least four app stores on Android which customers must search through to find the app they want and developers will need to work to distribute their apps and get paid.

With that utterance, Jobs may have pulled off the non-too-easy feat of simultaneously shooting himself in the foot while putting his foot in his mouth.

Microsoft notes that they, like others, would like to use the term themselves, but "Apple asserts that such uses are infringements of its rights and it has sent demand letters to companies using 'App Store' in their names."

This, Redmond asserts, has caused other entities to skirt around the term, and to call themselves something else, even though the press uses the term "app store" to describe their, uh, app stores. As a chart in the Opposition filing shows:

From Microsoft's challenge of Apple's 'App Store' trademark

"Under established law," Microsoft concludes, "APP STORE is unregistrable for retail store services featuring apps and for ancillary and other services offered by Apple at its app store. Apple cannot leverage its early success to prevent competitors from using this generic term for their own app stores."

The aforementioned foot-sore Apple CEO is notoriously protective of words to which he lays claim – witness, for example, his insistence on defending against non-Cupertinian use of the words "Pad" and "Pod".

But from where we sit, if "The Computer Store" isn't trademarkable, it's difficult to see how "App Store" could be.

The USPTO was correct on the former. We'll see how well they do on the latter. ®

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