Talking tech since 2003

As it stands today, the Apple iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad are three widely used devices that arguably pioneered the new mobile trends that we have been seeing over the last couple of years.  One of the biggest features behind Apple’s “iOS” – the underlying operating system that is used on all of Apple’s non-MacBook mobile products – is the “App Storewhich allows users to purchase and download mobile applications for their handheld devices over-the-air without the need for any physical installation media.  In fact, the iOS App Store has done so well for Apple that the company recently released a similar software center – also bearing the “App Store” name – for the Mac OS X platform as well.  However, in the heat of Apple’s success, competitor Microsoft is making claims that the term “app store” is too generic to be awarded the patent in which Apple is in the works to obtain.

This controversy, which made its way around the headlines yesterday comes more than two years after Apple filed the initial request to be awarded a trademark, and nearly a year after the United States Patent and Trademark Office opened the doors for contestment on Apple’s proposed trademark.  On top of that, the timing of this controversy also comes relatively shortly after the release of Windows Phone 7; a product that Microsoft has been pushing very heavily, and a product that contains a similar software marketplace.

The heart of this argument really does come down to nitty-gritty details in wording.  You see, while Apple defines the “App Store” as “retail store services featuring computer software for use on handheld mobile digital electronic devices and other consumer electronics,” Russell Pangborn from Microsoft’s council has been quoted as saying that “an ‘app store’ is an ‘app store.'”

The concept of coining a relatively generic word or phrase as a trademark is not a new one by any stretch of the imagination.  Last year, I wrote an article about Trek2000 – a company that produces USB storage solutions – acquiring the “ThumbDrive” trademark, despite the fact that many people saw the phrase “thumb drive” to be generic and not specific to any company or brand.  Because of this, I would honestly be surprised if Apple were to be denied their proposed trademark, even with Microsoft’s dispute.

This is because in Apple’s case, they arguably did coin the phrase “App Store”.  This can be seen in a simple Google Trends graph that shows the popularity of the “App Store” term taking off in 2008 – at the exact same time that Apple announced the third-party application support on the iPhone and the marketplace mechanism that would come along with it.  With this in mind, Microsoft would have to somehow prove that the widespread use of the “App Store” term was coincidental to Apple’s announcement of the “App Store” feature in what was then the iPhone OS platform.

An online community post also brings up the fact that “App Store” was once a registered trademark was once held by, but was ultimately dropped in 2008 prior to Apple filing for the exact same trademark, and at the same time that Salesforce was invited to an Apple event to serve as an example for the then relatively new iPhone SDK.  Because of this interesting timeline of events, it is entirely possible and would make a great deal of sense to draw the conclusion that Apple and Salesforce potentially had some sort of deal in order to allow Apple the “App Store” trademark in exchange for preferential treatment and a form of free advertisement.

At the end of the day, it’s going to be interesting to see how this turns out, and if Apple will indeed be granted their patent.  Even if Apple were to have bent morals in order to gain the trademark that they are now fighting to get their hands on, I honestly think that the real question is if their actions thus far have been legal.  After all, this is a court of law that we’re talking about.  Better yet, I question why Microsoft even cares.  The “App Store” has been out for years, and has earned quite a name for itself.  The only two scenarios that in my mind would explain why Microsoft is concerned about this matter is that they either want to bully Apple, or that they are looking to start an “App Store” of their own.  In either case, it all seems a bit pathetic to me.

Do you think that Apple deserves and is legally justified for the “App Store” trademark?  Do you think that they will indeed get it?  Let us know in the comments!

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