Ap­ple’s sil­li­est le­gal dis­putes

Ap­ple has been hit with – and in­sti­gated – some strange le­gal claims over the years. David Price reveals six of our favourite

iPad&iPhone user - - CONTENTS -

The law is a se­ri­ous busi­ness, but some­times peo­ple use it in silly ways. And Ap­ple, be­ing the wealth­i­est tech com­pany in the world, has got mixed up in more friv­o­lous, con­vo­luted and just plain ab­surd law­suits than most.

In this ar­ti­cle we look back on six of the sil­li­est. Some of th­ese are law­suits that were es­sen­tially ground­less and should have never hap­pened in the first place; oth­ers were legally sound but

ended up drift­ing into odd ar­eas, or were brought into dis­re­pute by des­per­ate lawyers turn­ing to ab­surd ar­gu­ments.

Note, also, that while Ap­ple is on the re­ceiv­ing end of a huge num­ber of friv­o­lous law­suits, there are a num­ber of en­tries here where Ap­ple – or its le­gal rep­re­sen­ta­tives – are the ones be­ing silly.

1. ‘Butt-Head As­tronomer’ (1993-1995)

The late as­tro­physi­cist, au­thor and all-round vi­sion­ary Carl Sa­gan is idolised here at iPad & iPhone User, but he loses a few hero points for his (in our opin­ion) over­cooked re­ac­tion to a fairly in­nocu­ous trib­ute by Ap­ple en­gi­neers – and this led us to the first of our silly law­suits.

An­tic­i­pat­ing that the Power Mac­in­tosh 7100 would sell very heav­ily, its mak­ers cheek­ily gave the de­vice the in­ter­nal co­de­name ‘Carl Sa­gan’, on the ba­sis that the great man was fa­mous for his

en­thu­si­as­ti­cally em­phatic use of the word ‘bil­lions’. (Bil­lions of units sold – ged­dit?) All per­fectly in­nocu­ous, but un­for­tu­nately, the co­de­name was pub­li­cised in a MacWEEK ar­ti­cle, and the man him­self took ex­cep­tion to the idea that he was in­vol­un­tar­ily en­dors­ing a prod­uct he knew noth­ing about. He ex­pressed his mis­giv­ings in a let­ter to MacWEEK that is re­pro­duced on Let­ters of Note.

The en­gi­neers changed the co­de­name but, good sense be­ing ap­par­ently in short sup­ply down at Ap­ple HQ that week, called it BHA in­stead - this stand­ing for ‘Butt-Head As­tronomer’. This name got leaked too. Sa­gan sued – and lost – but Ap­ple even­tu­ally apol­o­gised and set­tled out of court.

The ma­chine’s fi­nal co­de­name was LAW, stand­ing for ‘Lawyers are wimps’.

2. The glass door (2011-2012)

If you clean glass too much it be­comes vir­tu­ally in­vis­i­ble, and most of us have at one time or an­other bumped our faces into, for ex­am­ple, the pro­tec­tive cas­ing on the Magna Carta in the Bri­tish Li­brary on a date with a new part­ner. But most of us don’t see this as a money-mak­ing op­por­tu­nity.

In New York, your av­er­age glass bumper is a can­nier crea­ture, how­ever. Near the end of 2011, Eve­lyn Paswall, an 83-year-old grandma (and for­mer vice-pres­i­dent at a Man­hat­tan fur com­pany – please don’t pic­ture a pen­ni­less pen­sioner), walked into one of the glass doors at Ap­ple’s Man­has­set store, break­ing her nose. And promptly sued the com­pany for a mil­lion bucks, cit­ing “the dan­ger that this high-tech mod­ern ar­chi­tec­ture poses to some peo­ple”.

To be fair to Ms Paswall, her ex­pe­ri­ence must have been ex­tremely painful and em­bar­rass­ing: we sym­pa­thise with her ex­pe­ri­ence, if not her case. A year later Ap­ple set­tled out of court for undis­closed dam­ages.

3. The Pol­ish gro­cer (2012)

Ap­ple is a vo­cif­er­ous de­fender of its trade­marks and in­tel­lec­tual prop­er­ties. This is un­der­stand­able, given the im­por­tance of de­sign and brand­ing to Ap­ple’s busi­ness, but oc­ca­sion­ally it has led the com­pany into undig­ni­fied po­si­tions.

Ap­ple has op­posed count­less ap­pli­ca­tions for trade­marks for lo­gos in­volv­ing a cer­tain po­ma­ceous fruit – in­clud­ing an Aus­tralian em­bod­i­ment of the much-missed Wool­worths brand, back in 2009 – even though Peggy Watt

and oth­ers have pointed out that the fruit was used as a logo at least as early as the 1930s.

This site lists some of the trade­mark ap­pli­ca­tions that Ap­ple has re­sisted.

But Ap­ple looks par­tic­u­larly silly when pur­su­ing this vendetta against com­pa­nies that sell fruit - com­pa­nies, in other words, that couldn’t pos­si­bly be mis­taken for the world’s most beloved maker of elec­tronic goods, and which have far more jus­ti­fi­ca­tion to be us­ing a fruit as their logo. In 2012 Ap­ple filed a com­plaint with the Pol­ish pa­tent of­fice against an on­line gro­cer named A.pl, call­ing foul on its name and a logo with an ap­ple in it that A.pl’s par­ent com­pany, fresh24, planned to use.

Given that A.pl ac­tu­ally sells ap­ples, un­like its more fa­mous Cu­per­tino-based near-name­sake (as well as other food, clean­ing prod­ucts and

so on – but not lap­tops and video-edit­ing soft­ware, you’ll note), this seemed like a reach. A.pl called the ac­cu­sa­tion “lu­di­crous” and many com­men­ta­tors agreed.

Zakupy na klikniecie!

4. Sam­sung tablets aren’t as cool (2012)

The le­gal dis­putes be­tween Ap­ple and Sam­sung are leg­endary; at one stage they were in­volved in more than 50 cases with one an­other around the world. Th­ese cases pro­duced var­i­ous re­sults: Ap­ple got a big win in its home state, where it was awarded a bil­lion dol­lars in dam­ages (although this was later re­duced on ap­peal), but Sam­sung scored vic­to­ries in its own home (South Korea), as well as Ja­pan and the UK.

Well, we say Sam­sung won in the UK, but there was a sting in the tail: Judge Colin Birss ar­gued that Sam­sung tablets are un­likely to be con­fused with iPads be­cause they’re “not as cool”. En­joy the win, Sam­sung!

5. The zero-length swipe (2012)

Like many of us, US Cir­cuit Judge Richard Pos­ner felt that the rash of law­suits af­flict­ing the mo­bile tech in­dus­try in 2012 was get­ting out of hand.

Pos­ner threw out a pa­tent dis­pute be­tween Ap­ple and Mo­torola – on the prin­ci­ple that nei­ther side could show they had been harmed by the other’s ac­tions, and that the cost of a trial would be “con­trary to the pub­lic in­ter­est” – and called one of Ap­ple’s ar­gu­ments “silly” and one of Mo­torola’s “ridicu­lous”.

Ap­ple was ar­gu­ing that its pa­tent for ‘swipe to un­lock’ should also cover a tap, be­cause “a tap is a zero-length swipe”. Yep, pretty silly.

6. The hand­bag maker (2012-2016)

Ap­ple’s had a mixed ride when it comes to the iPhone trade­mark. The first iPhone-branded tech

prod­uct was ac­tu­ally made by Linksys, which led to a dis­pute over use of the name which Ap­ple set­tled in 2007; and ever since, the firm has been fight­ing to stop other com­pa­nies climb­ing on board.

China has been a par­tic­u­larly lu­cra­tive des­ti­na­tion for the world’s jet­set­ting trade­mark-law spe­cial­ists, but not all of Ap­ple’s le­gal dis­putes in that nation have been suc­cess­ful. In May 2016, for ex­am­ple, Western tech fans were sur­prised and frankly baf­fled to hear that the Bei­jing Mu­nic­i­pal High Peo­ple’s Court had ruled that Xin­tong Tiandi Tech­nol­ogy would be able to con­tinue us­ing the word ‘IPHONE’ on leather goods such as phone cases and hand­bags. (Why well-heeled Chi­nese women would want hand­bags la­belled IPHONE is be­yond us, in­ci­den­tally, but per­haps it’s no worse than one of us get­ting a tat­too of a mean­ing­less phrase writ­ten out in Chi­nese.)

The case hinged on Ap­ple prov­ing that its brand was widely known in China be­fore Xin­tong ap­plied for its trade­mark in 2007 – and since the iPhone didn’t hit that mar­ket un­til 2009, it was al­ways go­ing to be tough. Ap­ple has re­quested a re­trial.

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