Time for Irony: Apple Accused of Stealing Swiss Clock Design

Apple may soon be facing a legal challenge from the Swiss Federal Railway, SBB, for using a design nearly identical to that of the railway’s station clocks as part of the new Clock app for iPad in iOS 6, Swiss newspaper Tages-Anzeiger reported Thursday [Google Translation]. The design of the clock is licensed by SBB for third party use, but Apple did not seek approval to use the design before implementing it on the iPad.

Apple iPad Clock Swiss Railway Comparison

The controversy over Apple’s unauthorized use of the clock is bitterly ironic, as it comes just weeks after Apple won a major court case against Samsung for the Korean company’s unauthorized copying of Apple’s designs for smartphones and mobile OS software. Following the verdict, Apple CEO Tim Cook, in a note to employees, wrote: “The jury has now spoken. We applaud them for finding Samsung’s behavior willful and for sending a loud and clear message that stealing isn’t right.”

SBB has contacted Apple to determine a “legal and financial” resolution. “We enjoy the fact that the Swiss railway clock is being used by Apple. It once again proves that it’s a real piece of design,” SBB spokesperson Christian Ginsig said. “This act, however, is an unauthorized use [of the clock’s design] by Apple.”

It is likely that Apple will quickly and quietly agree to licensing terms to end the dispute, but the situation serves as a reminder that Apple, despite its best efforts to characterize itself as such during ongoing copyright and patent lawsuits around the world, is not always a victim. While this incident is worlds apart from the persistent and wholesale copying that Samsung has been accused of, there is at least a hint of “pot, kettle, and black” in the air.

The clock, an icon in Switzerland, was designed by Hans Hilfiker in 1944. Copyright and trademark rights are now owned by SBB, which licenses the clock’s use for commercial sale of wristwatches and wall clocks.

UPDATE (2012-09-21 7:41 EDT): As some in the comments have noted, the two clocks are not literally, exactly, the same. It's important to remember, however, that Apple's phone icon in iOS, below, was not exactly the same as any Android phone icon used by Samsung, yet nobody seriously argued that Samsung had not abused Apple's design without permission. Similarly, there is no doubt that Apple designers copied the SBB clock, for honest reasons of "inspiration" or "paying homage," or otherwise.

Apple Phone icon Comparison to Samsung

[via MacRumors]