Apple Engages in Bizarre Trademark Battle with Apples: A Strange Confrontation

In recent years, Apple has been involved with various entities, including a meal-prepping app with a pear logo, a singer-songwriter called Frankie Pineapple, a German cycling route, a pair of stationery manufacturers, and a school district. The company also had a long battle with the Beatles’ music label, Apple Corps, which was finally resolved in 2007.

According to the Tech Transparency Project, a nonprofit organization researching Big Tech, Apple filed more trademark oppositions between 2019 and 2021 than Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon, and Google combined. These companies also have trademarks for common terms like “Windows” or “Prime.”

In 2010, Apple reached an out-of-court agreement with a small Swiss grocers’ cooperative, preventing them from adding a bite mark to their logo, which featured a red apple inside a shopping caddy. The cooperative’s president at the time stated that this addition was never planned.

However, Apple has faced setbacks. In 2012, Swiss Federal Railways received 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 by a watchmaker in the 1980s, caused Apple to delay the launch of its Apple Watch in the country.

Apple is seeking rights over a black-and-white image of an apple, which could potentially grant them broad protection over the shape and allow them to pursue similar depictions in different colors. Cyrill Rigamonti, an intellectual property law professor at the University of Bern, explains that the question would then become whether there is a likelihood of confusion with other non-identical apple images.

Irene Calboli, a professor at Texas A&M University School of Law and the University of Geneva, notes that in Switzerland, those who can prove prior use of a disputed sign have protection in trademark disputes. This means Apple may have difficulty enforcing its trademark against organizations that have used the apple symbol for many years.

However, Calboli states that big companies with resources often intimidate smaller businesses into compliance. She believes that the system favors those with more money and that even the threat of litigation from Apple can deter people from engaging in lawful activities.

Calboli criticizes the global trademark industry, claiming that it is self-sustaining and that many individuals make money by registering unnecessary trademarks. She suggests that smaller companies, like Switzerland’s apple growers, should learn to navigate the system in order to protect their assets.

The Swiss court’s decision may take months or even years to be known. If the apple growers have to rebrand as a result, they stand to lose “millions.” Mariéthoz, who represents over 8,000 apple farmers, expresses their discontent with the notion that Apple, a company that did not invent apples, would try to claim ownership of the fruit when they have been in the industry for 111 years.

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