Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) has been working really hard at breaking into the smartphone apps race that’s dominated by Google’s Android and Apple (NSDQ: AAPL), so this latest step should perhaps come as no surprise. Microsoft has filed a motion with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for Apple to be refused exclusive rights to use the name “App Store,” arguing that this is a generic term that Apple “should not be permitted to usurp for its exclusive use.”
In the motion (obtained and posted by the Seattle tech news site Tech Flash), Microsoft’s lawyers argue that
“the combined term ‘app store’ is commonly used in the trade, by the general press, by consumers, by Apple’s competitors and even by Apple’s founder and CEO Steve Jobs, as the generic name for online stores featuring apps.…In a recent interview, Jobs criticized the proliferation of app stores for Google’s competing Android platform as follows: In addition to Google’s own app Marketplace, Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN), Verizon and Vodafone (NYSE: VOD) 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.”
Apple has hit back against Microsoft’s attacks, arguing that “”the vastly predominant usage of the expression ‘app store’ in trade press is as a reference to Apple’s extraordinarily well-known APP STORE mark and the services rendered by Apple thereunder.”
Does Microsoft have a case here? While the term certainly has become widely used, one can’t forget that Apple’s App Store also is a play on Apple too, just as Mac is a short term for Macintosh.
But you can’t fault Microsoft for trying anything it can to get an edge over Apple. If one of the allures of smartphones has, so far, been access to app stores, then Apple has stolen a march against its competitors: it has over 300,000 apps in its App Store catalogue, while its next-closest competitor Android has 130,000 in its Market. Microsoft, meanwhile, is relatively languishing at 4,000 in its Marketplace, and that’s including a sizeable number of apps ported over from the predecessor to Windows Phone 7, its most current mobile OS.
That’s a lead that Apple has been banking on and using on other platforms, too, such as the iPad, and — as of last week — the Mac App Store.