Microsoft & Apple Linguists Duel Over “App Store” Trademark

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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.

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Lee Dronick

Captain of our Mac Observer band,
Trademark is here at hand,
And the litigators have come thee,
Pleading for a linguists’ fee.
Shall we their legal pageant see?
Lord, what fools these vendors be!

A Midsummer Court’s Dream Act 3, scene 2


I don’t think I heard the word “app” often at all before the iPhone, and if so it was an abbreviation for “application” used only in quick speech among developers.  As a popular term, replacing “application” or “program”, Apple popularized it.

I definitely never heard “App Store” (or “app store”) before Apple’s use of the phrase.

However, I still think it’s a bit silly to trade mark things that sound quite as generic as that.  I also think it’s silly to trademark the word “Windows”.  So if MS gets “Windows” Apple should get “App Store”.


Windows, anyone?

Make a deal with Microsoft, Apple: Keep the brand App Store, and let Microsoft keep Windows. And throw in the term “blogcast” as a bonus. :D


Make a deal with Microsoft, Apple: Keep the brand App Store, and let Microsoft keep Windows.

I have a better idea - acquiesce to Microsoft’s claim of the term being too generic, and then use it in court to strip them of the right to a trademark on ‘Windows’. No, seriously.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

Butlers is clearly the more cunning of the two. Leonard seems to be making a fallacious argument.


Leonard seems to be making a fallacious argument

He probably knows he’s freelancing at $50 less an hour than the in-house Butlers, maybe just giving Apple’s cheap arses the appropriate level of service.


Those cunning linguists are at it again. After all of the back and forth, let’s hope it all comes to something.


The Microsoft guy’s statement appears to undermine the argument that “Windows” is generic in the same way as “App Store”. “app store” (without capitals) is a simple definition of what the App Store is. “windows”, however, is not a simple definition of what Windows is. A better argument would be made if Microsoft’s operating system were called “Operating System”.

The word “app” was certainly around before the App Store… the phrase “killer app” has been around at least since 1989, as referenced by wikipedia.

Lee Dronick

The word ?app? was certainly around before the App Store? the phrase ?killer app? has been around at least since 1989, as referenced by wikipedia.

True, but no one filed for a trademark until now. Was the word in common enough usage to keep Apple from registering from using it in connection with a store? Apple has been using the term “App Store” for a while.

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