Apple reclaims the term ‘app store’, this time from Amazon

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Apple seems to think that it can claim a chunk of the English language as its own: specifically, the name for its “pioneering” App Store created in 2008.

It claims there is no room in the world for any “app stores” other than its own. In an ongoing legal battle that started last year, the Cupertino giant has argued that “App Store” is a trademark phrase, giving it the right to stop competitors like Amazon using it. A little Don Quixote-esque?

But in an Oakland federal court yesterday, a very skeptical judge had doubts about whether Amazon’s use of the word “Appstore” would deceive or confuse customers. According to Ars Technica, US District Judge Phyllis Hamilton questioned Apple’s lawyer, David Eberhart, about what evidence he has to support the company’s claim.

“They [Amazon employees] admit they targeted Apple customers, because Apple set the benchmark for what consumers expected,” said Eberhart. “When you combine that with our evidence consumers associate the term ‘app store’ with Apple,” it’s enough evidence to warrant a trial.

Judge Hamilton response pretty makes it pretty clear that she doesn’t think much of Apple’s claim:

everyone who uses a smartphone knows the difference between the Apple iOS system and the Android system. Where’s the confusion? There’s some suggestion [by Apple] that if Amazon is using the ‘Appstore’ term someone might think they have as many apps as Apple does. Well, why? And how, in fact, does that contribute to any deception on the part of Amazon?

Eberhart fought back with an example of a page from Amazon, showing the smartphones it has on offer. On the page, it stated that Android software could be purchased through the Amazon Appstore and iPhone users could get the same apps through the Apple App Store. “Consumers will see this kind of advertising and import their associations with Apple service. They understand what the App Store by Apple entails — hundreds of thousands of apps, and an ease of service unmatched by any others,” said Eberhart. “When a consumer sees something like this they will be deceived into thinking the Amazon store has the same types of qualities.”

Confused yet? We are…

Judge Hamilton was unwavering in her scepticism. “I don’t see it,” she said. “I don’t look at this and make that determination. I just don’t understand the whole idea that people would misunderstand and blend these two different products and services.”

This fiery litigation over “app store” as a phrase shows how fervently Apple believes in its brand by not just beating its competitors in the marketplace but also in court, believing the App Store to be so pioneering that it alone can lay claim to the words.

“A pioneering brand — the first successful brand in a new market — plays a unique role in educating consumers about the product category as a whole while simultaneously building consumer affiliation between the product and the pioneer,” wrote Apple in its brief.

Amazon representative Martin Glick, pointed out that none of the supposedly deceiving ads were put forth:

“Today, I’m given a piece of paper that’s not an ad for any app store. It’s an ad for smartphones, and it’s not even in the record before Your Honour.”

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