In recent years, Apple has gone after dozens of entrepreneurs and small businesses for applying or trying to trademark names with the word ‘apple’, or logos showing the fruit.
Between 2019 and 2021, Apple, the world’s most valuable public company, worth $2.6 trillion, filed 215 trademark oppositions to defend its logo, name or product titles. That’s more than the 136 oppositions filed by Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook and Google collectively in the same period.
Among entities targeted are those that have nothing to do with technology, are infinitesimal in size, or involving other fruits, like oranges and pears. An independent singer-songwriter received a notice; an Indian food blog was pulled up; as was a public-school district in Wisconsin, US; a curbside pickup startup named Citrus; and a meal planning startup app that was using a pear logo.
Josh Rosenstock, an Apple spokesman, said legal action is the company’s last resort. “When we see applications that are overly broad or could be confusing to our customers, our first step is always to reach out and resolve these quickly and amicably,” he said.
But this campaign amounts to “bullying”, said Christine Farley, a professor at American University’s Washington College of Law, adding that most of them aren’t needed to protect the public from confusion.
Many entities who were targeted by Apple said they just didn’t have the resources to fight the company in front of the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board. In all, 127 entities (59%) didn’t respond to the challenge and defaulted, while 37 entities (17%) withdrew their applications.
However, the company wasn’t always so litigious. Before 2000, it filed just a handful of trademark oppositions, peaking at nine in 1989. As Apple grew, its legal team, seeking to prevent the brand’s dilution, created a template for challenging trademark applications.
This may involve asking the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board for extensions to file against a new trademark, and then contact the applicant directly. Lacye Brown, 38, an artist from Atlanta who created a cartoon of a fictional witch doctor named ‘Dr Apples’, said it was “devastating” when Apple asked for more time to challenge her application. She narrowed her trademark request after discussions with Apple’s lawyers, who never filed an official opposition. “No way has anyone ever affiliated me with Apple,” she said.
Singer-songwriter Stephanie Carlisi tried to use the stage name Franki Pineapple, but Apple objected to this, saying an apple and a pineapple are “both names of fruits, and thus convey a similar commercial impression”. “It’s not even an apple,” as Carlisi said.
However, unlike others, she did take up the challenge. Carlisi won a concession in court, forcing the company to stop pursuing its opposition if she included a disclaimer that ‘Franki Pineapple’ was not her real name. While it cost her $10,000, Carlisi got inspiration. Her debut single, about sticking it to the man and uses a well-known expletive, was inspired by her battle. New York Times