Apple slaps Open Source Amahi with ‘app store’ cease and desist

Many of today’s Technorati veer towards multiple computers and devices at home. Any home network worth shaking a stick at will have some sort of server, whether it is a standalone NAS device, a little firewall powered by Smoothwall, or the somewhat disappointing Windows Home Server. The past few years have seen the rise of a fantastic open source alternative to Windows Home Server, the Amahi Linux Home Server.

It provides a set of common features for the home network: VPN access, media streaming, backups, shared calendars, centralised file storage and so on. It is also highly extensible through Amahi’s own “app store”, where you can download additional apps to enhance the functionality of your server. And therein lies the problem.

Just over a week ago, Amahi was slapped with a cease and desist letter from Apple for their “unauthorized use” (sic) of the term “app store”. We kid you not. There are any number of arguments as to why the letter is pure drivel.

High among these is the fact that the great turtleneck-clad Steve Jobs used the term generically during an earnings call with investors in which he said “there will be at least four app stores on Android, which customers must search among to find the app they want”. Amazon launched their own Appstore for Android, and Apple is gunning for them too.

Understanding the problem with the whole “App Store” trademark requires a little bit of a lesson in its history. Back in 1998, Sage Networks applied to trademark the term “appstore”, and then abandoned their attempt in 2000. Jump forward a few years to 2006, when had a vision for something they called AppStore, beginning the trademark process and even grabbing the domain.

Since the CEO is an ex-Apple intern, he ran the idea past the Great Jobs himself, who gave them some hints on how they could scale the service. renamed the service AppExchange to sound more corporate, gave the domain to Apple as a means of thanks, and dropped their trademark application in 2008.

Even more curious is Apple’s trademark application, where they have a disclaimer which states that they’re not trying to trademark the word “store”, but are claiming the trademark because they gave the word “app” its current meaning. Has Apple gone a little bonkers? If they’re staking claim to the word “app”, in a sense, why aren’t they gunning for Google Apps or RIMs App World?

While we are no stranger to the big boys having a go at each other, and the reasonably frivolous lawsuit Apple has filed against Amazon is no exception, it is surprising that Apple has chosen to go after a small open-source project. Do they genuinely believe that people will stumble across Amahi’s app store and be rendered mute with confusion as they struggle to understand why they can’t install Amahi Invaders on their iPhone?

As the proverbial Goliath readies his armour for battle against the little guy, Amahi has started complying by running a Name the Store contest, with entries rotating on the site. One thing is certain: We agree with what Thom Holwerda said of the contest: “My personal favourite so far? Appl store. You know, appl, short for application.”

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