In recent years, Apple has pursued a meal-prep app with a pear-shaped logo, a songwriter named Frankie Pineapple, a German bike lane, a couple of stationery makers, and a school district, among others. The company fought a decade-long battle with the Beatles’ music label Apple Corps that was finally settled in 2007.
A 2022 survey by the Tech Transparency Project, a nonprofit that researches Big Tech, found that between 2019 and 2021, Apple filed more trademark lawsuit attempts to enforce its intellectual property over other companies than did Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon and Google combined. These companies also have common registered terms like Windows or Prime.
Apple has a record in Switzerland. In 2010, the trillion-dollar company convinced a small Swiss food cooperative to settle out of court in which it declared it would never add a bite mark to its logo: a bright red apple inside a shopping cart. expense, something that, according to the president of the cooperative at the time, was never planned.
Things didn’t always work out for Apple, though. In 2012, the Swiss Federal Railways won a $21 million settlement after proving that Apple had copied the design of the Swiss railway clock. In 2015, an existing Apple trademark in Switzerland, obtained from a watchmaker in the 1980s, forced Apple to delay the launch of its popular Apple Watch in the country.
Apple is only asking for the rights to a black and white image of an apple. However, according to Cyrill Rigamonti, who teaches intellectual property law at the University of Bern, this could actually give him the widest possible protection over form, allowing him to follow representations in a wide range of colours. Then the question [would be], is there a likelihood of confusion with respect to some other apple that is not exactly identical? he says.
Irene Calboli, a professor at the Texas A&M University School of Law and a fellow at the University of Geneva, says that in Switzerland, anyone who can prove a prior history of using a contested sign has protection in a potential trademark dispute. This means that it may be difficult for Apple to stamp its mark on organizations that have used the apple symbol for decades.
However, he says, big, wealthy companies can often scare small businesses into compliance. The system is very biased towards those with the most money, she says. Just the threat of costly litigation against a big company like Apple can be enough to intimidate people into doing something that might be perfectly lawful.
Calboli says the global brands business is self-sustaining. Many people make a lot of money off these rights by registering them, he says. The IPR authorities are just as guilty as the lawyers, because the bureaus want revenue, so they issue registrations for things that companies don’t need. This is our brand industry. Smaller companies, such as Swiss apple growers, may need to learn how to operate the system to protect their assets, he adds. We’re dancing and it’s hard to stop the dance. Since the system is like this, it’s better for everyone to use it rather than just the grown-ups.
A Swiss court decision will not be known for months, possibly years. For Swiss apple growers, millions are at stake if they have to change brands as a result of a decision. We’re not trying to compete with Apple; we’re not going to get into the same field as them, says Marithoz, adding that one of the biggest problems the 8,000 apple growers he represents have had with trying to grab the fruit was that, you know, Apple didn’t invent the apples. been around for 111 years. And I think apples have been around for a few thousand plus.
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