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Report: Apple uses 'bullying tactics' to defend its trademark

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What you need to know

  • A new report says that Apple is very proactive about defending its trademark.
  • The NYT reports Apple has filed 215 oppositions to trademarks it thinks are too close to its own distinctive logo.
  • One expert described Apple's tactics as "bullying."

A new report says that Apple has filed some 215 trademark oppositions to logos it thinks are too close to its own distinctive logo, a tactic one expert say is tantamount to bullying.

From NYT:

Ms. St. John is one of dozens of entrepreneurs, small businesses and corporations that Apple has gone after in recent years for applying to trademark names with the word "apple" or logos of stemmed fruit. Between 2019 and last year, Apple, the world's most valuable public company, worth $2.6 trillion, filed 215 trademark oppositions to defend its logo, name or product titles, according to the Tech Transparency Project, a nonprofit watchdog. That's more than the estimated 136 trademark oppositions that Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook and Google collectively filed in the same period, the group said.

Ms. St. John is the central figure in one such anecdote, where Apple filed a trademark opposition with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, over her neon green and pink logo for a sex-and-life coaching blog depicting an apple that had been cut open to resemble female genitalia.

The report says that St. John was "crestfallen" but didn't have the money to take on Apple legally. The company claimed her logo was "likely to tarnish Apple's reputation, which Apple has cultivated in part by endeavoring not to associate itself with overtly sexual or pornographic material."

The report goes on to say that Apple has "frequently targeted entities that have nothing to do with tech or that are infinitesimal in size," with objections to trademarks even extending to other fruits such as oranges and pears.

An Apple spokesman said the company was required by law to defend its trademarks and said "when we see applications that are overly broad or could be confusing to our customers, our first step is always to reach out and try to resolve these quickly and amicably," adding that legal action was "always" a last resort.

The report says that many of those who received challenges thought they were frivolous or just plain wrong, but couldn't fight the filings because they couldn't afford the legal battle. At least one law professor is not impressed with Apple's tactics:

The scale of the company's campaign amounts to "bullying tactics, and they are unnecessary for Apple to protect the public from confusion," said Christine Farley, a professor at American University's Washington College of Law.

Other notable objections from the report include a filing against singer Stephanie Carlisi over her stage name Frankie Pineapple, The Appleton Area School District in Wisconsin, and a New York City curry blog titled Big Apple Curry. Carlisi, at least, was able to defend her trademark filing to the tune of some $10,000. The other two just withdrew their applications.

You can read the full story here.

Stephen Warwick
News Editor

Stephen Warwick has written about Apple for five years at iMore and previously elsewhere. He covers all of iMore's latest breaking news regarding all of Apple's products and services, both hardware and software. Stephen has interviewed industry experts in a range of fields including finance, litigation, security, and more. He also specializes in curating and reviewing audio hardware and has experience beyond journalism in sound engineering, production, and design.

Before becoming a writer Stephen studied Ancient History at University and also worked at Apple for more than two years. Stephen is also a host on the iMore show, a weekly podcast recorded live that discusses the latest in breaking Apple news, as well as featuring fun trivia about all things Apple.