Microsoft & Apple Linguists Duel Over “App Store” Trademark

What's in a word?Microsoft and Apple have hired dueling linguists in the battle over whether or not Apple can trademark “App Store,” the name of the company’s genre-defining online market place for iOS apps. Both companies have filed documents with supporting arguments from expert linguists that argue for (Apple) and against (Microsoft) the idea of Apple being able to trademark the name.

The use of a linguist to support its corporate arguments began with Apple, who hired Robert Leonard to examine the case for why “App Store” should be trademark. In filings with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) earlier this year. Mr. Leonard said that though the words “app” and “store” were generic when used separately, that they constituted a proper noun once Apple used them together. As a proper noun, they deserve trademark protection, argued the linguist.

Microsoft came out swinging in January of this year against Apple’s effort to earn that trademark. In a filing with the USPTO at that time, the company said, “‘App store’ is a generic name that Apple should not be permitted to usurp for its exclusive use. Competitors should be free to use ‘app store’ to identify their own stores and the services offered in conjunction with those stores.”

The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that Microsoft had filed another argument with the USPTO on the issue, and the company enlisted the help of its own linguist, one Ronald Butlers, who echoed Microsoft’s earlier argument.

“The compound noun app store means simply ‘store at which apps are offered for sale,’ which is merely a definition of the thing itself—a generic characterization,” Mr. Butlers wrote.

As the saying goes, what’s in a word? The answer to that ostensibly rhetorical question in this case is dollars (The Journal said that Mr. Butlers was paid US$400 an hour, while Mr. Leonard was paid $350 per hour), the fate of a trademark, and the future marketing plans of many and more companies.