They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but Apple’s not impressed, as it has been battling it out in multiple courts to claim its rights on product designs and other features of the wildly popular iPhone and iPad products. It looks like one of those cases, against Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN) and its use of the phrase “appstore”, got a setback yesterday: a judge said Apple’s bid to prohibit Amazon from using the term would “probably” get denied. What could that mean for Apple’s other big trademark case, against Samsung?
Although U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton has not made a final ruling in the case being heard in a federal court in Oakland, California, her remarks — reported by Reuters and others — indicate that she has yet to be convinced by Apple’s arguments for barring Amazon from using the “appstore” name.
Apple (NSDQ: AAPL), which filed the complaint in March, just days before Amazon officially opened its app store for business, alleged that Amazon was creating confusion in the market, particularly among developers, by using the same name as Apple’s, barring the space between the two words. The judge, however, said that Apple had a “stumbling block” in being unable to provide real evidence of confusion among consumers.
One of Amazon’s main arguments has been that consumers cannot get confused because Amazon offers apps for the Android platform, while Apple only sells apps for its own iOS platform that is used on its iPhone, iPad and iPod products.
On one hand, this situation begs questions about what can be constituted as generic versus proprietary in the echo chamber of the mobile and tech world. Apple was the first to put the words “app” and “store” together, but it’s undeniable that the term has run away from it. Even in cases where companies have branded their application storefronts with different names, such as Android Market or BlackBerry App World, the world at large still refers to them all as “app stores”.
On the other, Amazon’s argument about being used on a different platform is a compelling one when you think about Apple’s case against Samsung, where Apple is accusing Samsung of copying its designs for phones and tablets. While you need to be on the iOS or Android platforms to respectively use the App Store or the appstore, purchasing a device needs no prerequisite, and so you might argue that there really is more opening there for confusion among consumers.
In both the cases of the app store question and devices, Apple will have its legal work cut out for it. Apple is still also fighting out its case in Europe, as several companies — including Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT), HTC and Nokia (NYSE: NOK) — have filed a case with the European trademark office to dismiss Apple’s claims to the words. And while Samsung may have been the first targeted by Apple, there are so many others (look here, for example) developing touchscreen mobile devices that could raise an eyebrow, too.