Who owns the term “App Store”?
If you ask the legal eagles at Apple, the trademark for those two little words belongs to their company. Nearly two years ago, they fired off a lawsuit against Amazon, which offers an “Appstore for Android” via its Website; Amazon retaliated with a counterclaim. A massive courtroom battle, it seemed, was in the works.
But not so fast: according to Bloomberg, a San Francisco judge has ordered the companies’ lead attorneys and “people who have full authority to negotiate” to arrange settlement talks. The target date for those talks is March 21. If the two sides actually come to an agreement, it could head off a trial scheduled for August. (The case is Apple Inc. v. Amazon.com Inc., 11-01327, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (Oakland).)
Amazon has long argued that the term “app store” is far too generic for any one company to trademark. “Defendants admit that Amazon has not received a license or authorization from Apple to use the term -app store,’” read Amazon’s March 2011 response to Apple’s lawsuit, “and contend that no such license or authorization is required because ‘app store’ is a generic term, and Amazon’s use of the term causes no likelihood of confusion, dilution, or unfair competition.”
Amazon isn’t the only company to go to war with Apple over the term. Microsoft filed a Motion for Summary Judgment with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in January 2011, arguing that “app store” was a generic term for any online store featuring downloadable apps. Apple pushed back a month later, arguing in a filing before the same regulators: “Microsoft, missing the forest for the trees, does not base its motion on a comprehensive evaluation of how the relevant public understands the term APP STORE as a whole.”
Aside from a rather brutal battle over semantics, the case illustrates how important cloud-based apps have become to these tech giants’ respective fortunes—and how hard they’ll fight to make sure their respective app storefronts are synonymous with downloading software.