Stop the Noiz

Apple Sues Big Apple for Use of Apple in Logo

Frank Fox - 2008.04.10 - Tip Jar

Apple recently sued over the use of an apple logo in New York City.

This doesn't make sense. The nickname for New York is "the big apple". How can New York City not have the right to use an apple in a logo?

GreeNYC logoIf you look at the logo, you can see that it's not that similar to the one Apple uses.

You may think that Apple is "being evil" trying to tell some innocent group what to do. You may believe that it is so obvious that Apple's lawyers are just being jerks.

If you want to blame someone, don't blame Apple, and don't blame their lawyers - the fault lies with the courts. It started years ago, when Bayer lost exclusive rights to the word aspirin in the US. This used to be its registered trademark brand name for its acetylsalicylic acid tablet. When a court ruled that the name had not been protected and had gone into common usage, Bayer lost its trademark - and anyone could use it.

This has happened to many other companies, and the corporate world was taught a lesson by the courts: You have to defend your trademark or else! If you think this is no big deal, you're wrong. There is a long list of trademarks that have gone into common usage and are considered genericized trademarks - xerox, kleenex, jeep, scotch tape, velcro, zipper, etc. just to name a few.

This is not going to stop just because it creates bad public relation stories. A company has to ignore public opinion and act according to the law.

for everyone, lawyers and lawsuits are bad. First off, lawyers are expensive. Second, going to court is both time consuming and expensive. The financial drain can be devastating. Therefore they are feared and hated, but the rule of law is what makes our society fair.

for those many times when people disagree about the meaning or purpose of a law, we all have the freedom to bring a lawsuit and have a judge make the impartial decision. On the outside it can seem like common sense that an act is legal or fair, but with law and prior rulings the facts of a case can become less black and white.

Even within a business, the rules can get confusing. The goal of marketing is to push the brand name and logo to be popular and well recognized. But if they are too successful and the brand becomes a common word, the lawyers get nervous and start telling everyone they can't do that. The people in marketing are at odds with their own lawyers, and the message is confusing to the customer.

Yes, it is okay to use the Google™ search engine to find a website, but don't say that you are googling for information. Yes, you can say that Macintosh® computers are the best, but don't say "give me a mac." But you can write a slogan and trademark it, and then it is okay to say, "Give Me a Mac™" (unless this violates Apple's trademark).

The lawyers know that there is a fine line between what the courts have allowed in the past and what the courts have ruled against.

The next time you see the headline about your favorite company suing someone for the use of its trademark/logo, it's okay. Don't think of them being evil. They may be completely wrong, but common sense isn't good enough. The courts and the laws caused this mess, and it takes the ruling from a court to sort things out.

Just because they sued doesn't mean that Apple believes it is right. If a court finds that the usage is fair, Apple goes home happy: They can prove that they defended their trademark, and that is what is required by law to protect its trademark. It's confusing, and it may seem wrong, but you can't fault the lawyers for doing their job. It will take new laws and new court cases to change this system.

Next time you feel like there is injustice, write you congressperson a letter. Use your voice to advocate for a system that makes more sense or is less costly. Then maybe the lawyers can go back to suing over patents instead.

Oh wait, that's another screwed up bunch of laws and court cases. LEM

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