Apple is known to go to any extent to try and protect its trademarks, especially its apple-shaped logo. However, the only exception this time is that the tech giant has gone a bit too far to safeguard its trademark.
According to a report published by Wired, the Cupertino tech giant is trying to get IP (intellectual property) rights over the depiction of apples, the fruit, in Switzerland.
This has caused Fruit Union Suisse, a 111-year-old farmer’s organization that has been promoting the interests of Swiss fruit growers, to worry, as they may no longer be able to use an apple to promote its products if Apple wins the case.
The company will be forced to change its logo.
For most of its history, Fruit Union Suisse has represented itself with a red apple logo along with a white cross — the Swiss national flag placed over one of its most common fruits.
“We have a hard time understanding this, because it’s not like they’re trying to protect their bitten apple. Their objective here is really to own the rights to an actual apple, which, for us, is something that is really almost universal … that should be free for everyone to use,” Jimmy Mariéthoz, Director of Fruit Union Suisse, told Wired, referring to the company’s iconic logo.
Mariéthoz also added that there is no clarity on what uses of the apple shape Apple will try to protect.
“We’re concerned that any visual representation of an apple — so anything that’s audiovisual or linked to new technologies or to media — could be potentially impacted. That would be a very, very big restriction for us. Theoretically, we could be entering slippery territory everytime we advertise with an apple,” Mariéthoz continued.
Apple first tried to protect the fruit trademark in Switzerland in 2017, wherein the Cupertino giant submitted an application to the Swiss Institute of Intellectual Property (IPI) requesting the IP rights for a realistic, black-and-white illustration of a Granny Smith apple. It applied for an entire apple image rather than its trademark apple with a bite.
Apple also submitted an extensive list of potential uses, mostly centered on electronic, digital, and audiovisual consumer goods and hardware.
Following a prolonged back-and-forth between both parties, the IPI partially granted Apple’s trademark request, “saying that Apple could have rights relating to only some of the goods it wanted, citing a legal principle that considers generic images of common goods—like apples—to be in the public domain.” However, in April 2023, Apple filed an appeal against the decision to win the rest of the rights.
Since the court proceedings are still pending and require consent from Apple, the IPI couldn’t disclose details of its request but includes common uses such as audiovisual footage “meant for television and other transmission.”
Further, according to the World Intellectual Property Organization’s records, similar requests have been made to dozens of IP authorities around the world, with authorities in Japan, Turkey, Israel, and Armenia complying with the request.
Whether Apple has a chance of winning its legal battle remains to be seen. In the event it does, it could have widespread repercussions on many industries beyond the tech world. This could also set a dangerous precedent for other companies to pursue similar legal battles over common items.
A 2022 investigation by the Tech Transparency Project, a non-profit that researches Big Tech, discovered that Apple filed more trademark oppositions than Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon, and Google combined between 2019 and 2021.