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Apple digs in to protect ‘app store’ name

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At a time when Amazon (s amzn) poses a growing threat to its dominant iTunes service, Apple (s aapl) is doubling down on efforts to drive its rival away from the term “appstore.”

In court filings last week, Apple demanded that Amazon provide an executive to testify why the company decided to remove the words “for Android” from some of Amazon’s app store marketing. The filing also repeats allegations that Amazon’s use of “Amazon Appstore” with the Kindle Fire tablet was intended to confuse consumers. (Here are some highlights for legal eagle types:)

evidence suggesting that the name of Amazon’s Service is actually “Amazon Appstore,” or at least that Amazon has consciously chosen to cease or minimize the use of “for Android” with its mark, is highly relevant to Apple’s offensive case  […]  Amazon has steadfastly refused to produce documents and information regarding the use of “for Android” in connection with its service […] Amazon has failed to produce a witness who can testify regarding the decision not to use “for Android” with the Amazon  Appstore Service outside the context of the Kindle Fire, despite clear evidence that Amazon frequently does not use “for Android” in conjunction with its Service

Apple first filed the lawsuit in March of 2011 after its rival opened “Amazon Appstore for Android” and the two companies have since been locked in procedural squabbles. Amazon argues that the term “app store” is generic. Apple, on the other hand, says the removal of the “for Android” phrase is evidence the term is not generic and is now accusing Amazon of dragging its feet in producing evidence.

Apple, meanwhile, is still trying to obtain an official trademark for “app store,” a process that has been tied up even since Microsoft (s msft) asked the US Trademark Office to refuse the application. A similar fight is playing out in Europe.

Apple’s attempts to restrict Amazon’s use of “app store” is occurring as the companies appear on a collision course for the same customers. Reports this week suggest that Apple executives regard Amazon’s store as a bigger threat than Google’s store even though it is now much smaller. Apple’s fears may lie in the fact that Amazon’s store has iTunes-like quality control and because Amazon is selling a growing array of tablet devices and is planning to offer a smartphone. A report by Flurry also found that Amazon’s store generated 89 percent of revenue per active user compared to the best performer, Apple’s App Store, putting it well ahead of Google Play.

Despite all the legal action, Apple may be grasping at straws as its legal case for “app store” appears weak. Amazon and other opponents have pointed out that “app” was a word of the year in 2010 and that Steve Jobs reportedly used “app store” in a generic way — much as a person would say “shoe store.”

(Image by Edward Westmacott via Shutterstock)

12 Responses to “Apple digs in to protect ‘app store’ name”

  1. Joseph

    Jeff, you’re right. Everyone is entitled to an opinion even if uninformed. In fact, many lawyers don’t understand intellectual property (law is a very specialized field just like medicine).

    Let me clarify. I have no problem with blog comments. Let people say whatever they want. However, I often find that journalists (not just on GigaOm) often fail to understand legal issues. Does this mean reporters should get a law degree? No. But every reporter who writes about IP issues should have a source at an IP law firm so they can write more informed articles that better serve their readers.

    Regarding this particular dispute, how about an article about secondary meaning, which can overcome a claim of genericness? I bet your readers would find that helpful to understand. Frankly, given Amazon’s weak earnings, one has to wonder why it didn’t just come up with another name for its store. Microsoft’s lawsuit makes more sense — it has deeper pockets so spending $1-2 million is no big deal.

  2. Ledking

    App store is a generic term, a compound noun. No company should be able to copyright it. Also, Apple is not the first to use the term nor the only to apply for a copyright of it. Sage netWorks applied in 1998, and there are others leading up to 2006, before apple used it.

    Apple has NOT and been granted a copyright of this term.

    • Joseph

      Trademark, not copyright. Only lawyers should be permitted to debate these topics as non-lawyers don’t understand that this sort of stuff is routine. GigaOm is just reporting it because it concerns Apple. Anything Apple generates page views. There are many trademark disputes every day involving thousands of companies, including in the tech sector. GigaOm reports on none of them because GigaOm doesn’t report on legal issues — except when Apple is involved. Take a look at Law360’s daily coverage of trademark lawsuits files to get a sense of how garden variety such disputes are.

      • Hey Joseph, thanks for your comment. I’m not sure that non-lawyers should be excluded from legal debates, especially as the outcome of such debates can ripple far beyond the legal community. Moreover, I think we have to be careful about reinforcing notions that lawyers are someone smarter or more rarified than other people.

        As for our legal coverage, you’re right that people like to read about Apple and big tech companies and so that is what we typically report on. It’s not just a question of pageviews (though that is part of it). The other reason we cover Intellectual property issues is because they shape the development of innovation as a whole.

        Our legal coverage may not be as granular as some sites — but I guarantee it is accurate (and readable!).

  3. Renee Marie Jones

    It is so sad to see a company that started with such promise just throw away it’s tech and become a litigation crazed leech.

    • Sohrob Tahmasebi

      Perhaps you wouldn’t agree if you were an executive at Apple or an Apple shareholder. True that it’s disappointing to see so much litigation amongst ALL companies in the tech space recently (not fair to blame only Apple) but the fact is they have a right to protect their brand as well as their IP. Apple singlehandedly revived the smartphone market and honestly speaking created the tablet market (yes there were tablets before Apple but nothing substantial).

    • Engineer

      That only makes sense if you’re the one who coins the term. Apple coined the Appstore term.

      Just because a lot of people are violating this trademark does not make it a generic term like “Grocery store” is.