Amazon Battles Apple Over Claims To ‘App Store’ Name

Amazon.com has filed a counterclaim to Apple’s lawsuit over the term “App Store”, arguing that the term is too generic for trademarking.

Apple originally filed a lawsuit against Amazon on March 18, claiming the rights to App Store in the wake of the online retailer’s launch of an Appstore for Android, which has yet to be opened in the UK. That storefront exists independently from Android Marketplace, the cloud-based bazaar that offers hundreds of thousands of apps for Android-based smartphones and tablets.

A Growing Question Of Etymology

Amazon is not the first company to lock horns with the Californian tech giant over App Store. Microsoft and Apple are already locked in battle over the latter’s idea to trademark the term, with Microsoft arguing in a filing before the US Patent and Trademark Office’s Trial and Appeal Board that App Store is “generic for retail store services featuring apps and unregisterable for ancillary services such as searching for and downloading apps from such stores”.

“Defendants admit that Amazon has not received a licence or authorisation from Apple to use the term ‘app store’,” reads Amazon’s response, “and contend that no such licence or authorisation 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 then launched its counterclaim against Apple, asking the court to dismiss the latter’s trademark claims to the term. The online retailer also asked that Apple pay attorneys’ fees and expenses, along with “any such other and further relief as the court deems appropriate”.

The counterclaim boils down to linguistics:

“Based on their common meaning, the words ‘app store’ together denote a store for apps, such as the app stores operated by Amazon and Apple,” the filing continues. “The American Dialect Society, a leading group of US linguists, recently voted ‘app’ as the ‘Word of the Year’ for 2010, noting that although the word ‘has been around for ages’, it ‘really exploded in the last 12 months’.”

Indeed, it adds, “the words ‘app store’ are commonly used among many businesses competing in the app store market”.

Apples And Peers

Commercially, both Amazon and Microsoft face something of an uphill battle against Apple’s App Store, which contains the most apps by volume. Apple has already started expanding the app store concept beyond mobile devices to its Mac line of PCs, with a Mac App Store that offers full-screen applications. The storefront operates in a similar manner to Apple’s App Store for iOS, allowing users to purchase and download software with one mouse click. The Mac App Store will prove an integral part of the company’s upcoming Mac OS X 10.7 “Lion”.

Microsoft argued in its own case that “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 light of that, the counsel argued, Apple should be denied a lock on the name.

Apple begs to differ.

“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,” reads a February 28 filing by Apple with the US Patent and Trademark Office. “What it offers instead are out-of-context and misleading snippets of material printed by its outside counsel from the Internet and allegations regarding how the public allegedly interprets the constituent parts of the term App Store, i.e. ‘app’ and ‘store’.”

If nothing else, these cases stand to give everyone an exhaustive lesson in linguistics.

Nicholas Kolakowski eWEEK USA 2013. Ziff Davis Enterprise Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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Nicholas Kolakowski eWEEK USA 2013. Ziff Davis Enterprise Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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