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‘Owning’ Language

Posted in Apple, Intellectual Monopoly at 4:28 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz


Summary: Words you cannot use when Apple’s police is out hunting

WE often criticise intellectual monopolies for impeding knowledge, but what about language? Apple is going far too far with its brand-bullying campaigns. What brand does Apple claim to own anyway? Just the name of a fruit. And it goes after small shops that actually serve fruit because Apple is all about branding and if the brand gets ‘diluted’, then Apple can be finished as a brand. The problem is, apple is a common English word. Had the small businesses been able to take this the court, they would have won easily. Cost of litigation is high though. Perhaps this is why Apple tends to crush small businesses, this time a “tiny restaurant in Luxembourg” based on a report which says: [via Walt]

The mighty international Apple Inc. fears consumers worldwide will be confused by a tiny restaurant in Luxembourg named AppleADay. Their slogan? “Balanced Fast Food.” Apple’s response? Threaten to sue.

Can you get a better David vs Goliath story? Three young people in Luxembourg worked with a dietician to create a bistro menu of fast food that’s healthy. “We wanted to return to the original taste of the food,” said one of the owners. Local authorities gave the name their approval of the name suggested by the bistro’s communications company. The logo looks much more like a Georgia Peach logo than the Apple computer logo, but that’s before the lawyers got involved.

The insane nature of intellectual monopolies is made ever more crazy when you add proprietary software vendors to it. Microsoft claims to own the word “windows”, “lindows”, and even someone’s name (Mike Rowe).

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  1. Needs Sunlight said,

    November 4, 2011 at 6:50 am


    Lawsuits will become more common, this is just a sample of what’s to come. With Jobs gone, Apple now is less likely to be making headway with new design and new products. It’s just a matter of time before Apple implodes but it’s so big that the collapse will take a very long time. During that collapse we’ll see lawsuit after lawsuit, for the sake of impeding the competition as they try to zoom past the late, great Apple.

    Dr. Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    Lawsuits will mostly likely become common in an apocalyptic economy. As giants fall, their patents/trophies are melted down and turned into weapons. Here is a new article that I found this morning.

    Eastman Kodak Co. said Thursday that it will have trouble staying in business over the next year if it can’t squeeze more money out of its patent portfolio or raise new funds by selling debt.

    “Kodak turns into a patent troll because its traditional business is dying,” claims the FFII’s president. And there’s also this about Apple:

    OVER-REACHING LITIGATOR Apple has lost a patent lawsuit against a small Spanish company, allowing the firm to continue selling its tablet computer.

    Apple filed the case a year ago when it obtained an injunction from a local court to ban imports of the NT-K tablet into Spain. However, according to court documents, the Spanish court has vacated the injunction, saying that there are no legal grounds to block sales of the device.

  2. mcinsand said,

    November 4, 2011 at 7:44 am


    This isn’t just another example of Apple’s dictatorial behavior, but it is also a facet of a broken patent/copyright/trademark system. DuPont lost the ‘Nylon’ trademark because the company thought that the omnipresent usage was free advertising, but the term became generic when it was ruled that DuPont had not been diligent in protecting their trademark for only their brand of polyamide. This is why Xerox starts to get active when their company name is publicly used as a verb. There is a fine line to walk between showing a behavior to protect a trademark and being reasonable. With a name like ‘apple,’ that will be even trickier. At one job, we had a team of lawyers to descend on us when we had changed our company’s trademarked logo color to better contrast with some presentation backgrounds, and they were very polite in taking the time to explain why it matters in our ‘system.’

    This is also why so many of the current patent activities do fall into the extortion realm, and why companies like MS may actually be providing FOSS companies with a defense. When protecting a patent (or trademark or copyright), it is important to be public and clear about any infringement. To do so gives the ‘infringer’ time and opportunity to address any issues, and it also makes clear what rights the holder is asserting. Where this should or could work against the current intimidation strategies is that MS, in particular, has made vague threats without identifying any relevant patent numbers and claims. In other words, they are claiming that they know of infringement but are not taking positive, clear action to address it; this can become a constructive license, and it is actually a means where a property owner, real or intellectual, can take another’s property. A property owner, real or intellectual, can lose that property if others are publicly using that property, and the owner does not assert his rights with clarity and specificity. Vague threats with the purpose of intimidation is market suppression, and it should be subject to racketeering charges.

    Honestly, though, after working with patent examiners and patent attorneys for decades, I am simply baffled at the software industry. What planet do these guys come from? In my field, neither examiner or attorney would tolerate what seems to be routinely issued in the software world. In our work, we only put our very best examples forward with all of the detail and clarity we can muster. And, then claims have clear delineations for the boundaries of what we see as new territory. I am not trying to get into the debate of patents overall, even though I would like to provide my thoughts on driving/impeding innovation in a moment. However, patents on entering whitespaces and rounded corners leave me dumbfounded. Touch-screen displays predate the slide-to-lock patent filing date, and they predate with GUI’s and slide motion input (scroll bars). So, the patent is clearly not novel based on previously commercialized prior art. Entering a routine command (and lock is routine) by input devices common to the market before 2005 should never have been regarded as remotely patentable.

    As for innovation, in my industry, I do believe that it would come to a halt without patents. For my company, developing and introducing a new product costs hundreds of thousands of dollars. With analytical techniques, a competitor can see many changes with only minor laboratory testing. So, why would my company fund such an effort if the competition could use the new product as soon as samples come into the market? Granted, your perspective is different, and I look forward to reading it. However, I also know that, without the clarity and specificity that I am used to, innovation would grind to a halt. We don’t practice without a review to make sure that we have the right to practice, and nebulous language would definitely muddy those waters.


    Dr. Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    Trademarks forbid the use of words, copyrights can forbid the use of sentences, and patents can forbid the use of all sentences that convey a certain message. It all boils down to impeding expression of ideas.

    Needs Sunlight Reply:

    It’s not supposed to be allowed to trademark single words from the dictionary by themselves.

    Dr. Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    Sometimes trademarks enter dictionaries, e.g. Google entering the de facto American dictionary.

    Michael Reply:

    You touch on a number of good points. Apple might feel the need to go after such companies in order to keep others from abusing their IP. Still, this just seems extreme… but I do not know all of the legal ramifications. And with laws being so different in various countries, maybe there are laws that push Apple into this. Just absurd.

    As far as patenting trivial or obvious things – without knowing the laws but just seeing what things are patented, I assume it is much harder to patent the overall look and feel of a product. And that is what Samsung and others have been working to copy with Apple – so Apple has to use the system as it exists to defend their work.

    Right now Apple is under pretty heavy attack from Samsung and *maybe* Google itself with Android (Jobs seemed to think so… I have not seen enough evidence one way or the other to come to my own view). The laws they can use to defend themselves are absurd so they end up acting in ways that seem absurd.

    Seems most people agree the current system is a mess – but I have yet to read anything that would be a good solution. The idea of just making it legal for Samsung and the like to out and out copy Apple as much as they want is clearly not the right answer… but I have seen many naive people claim that would just be fine.

    Anyone who denies Samsung is not copying Apple should look at the overwhelming evidence:


    If there is anything to counter that I have not seen it.

    Mikko Reply:

    Apple copied LG Prada and others

    Dr. Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    I meant “news”.

    Michael Reply:

    Please show where early versions of Android were like iOS. Wait… they were not. Not even close.

    As far as the accusation that Apple copied LG Prada and others – please show this.

    Mikko Reply:


    Dr. Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    People increasingly recognise the fact that, despite all of Apple’s screaming and whining, it has not invented jack. Even the press writers about it now.

    Michael Reply:

    Thank you for admitting you are not aware of how Apple has turned around multiple industries with their innovation.

    Mikko Reply:

    Now you are trolling!

    Michael Reply:


    Wow… you just took each of my arguments and ripped them apart. Wait. No you ran away from any content and called me a name.

    Yeah, that is about the level of discourse I expect from Roy and those who back him. Just as Roy will not talk about why he was so wrong about PCLOS (past and present), you and he will run from all topics and just call people names.

    A shame. But not surprising – the facts are not on your side.

  3. Michael said,

    November 4, 2011 at 7:55 am


    Hey, no mention that I am the one who pointed you to that article. I am sure you found it through other avenues… right? Just seems odd how you are finding so many articles I point to in COLA – not just the same story but the same write up.

    Could be coincidence… but not likely.

    In any case, my comments from COLA:

    Really, Apple? I get protecting your IP – but unless there is something else to this story, Apple is just being stupid with this one.

  4. walterbyrd said,

    November 4, 2011 at 9:31 am


    What happened to my comment? A got a bogus error message that I was posting too quickly, and – apparently – the system puked on me.

    Dr. Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    The server is overloaded at the moment. I did, however, take a look at the moderation queue to see if it had landed there and I found there your older comment (days old), which I published. I always copy the text of comments before hitting submit, just in case. The server load will hopefully become sane soon (it hasn’t been for an hour).

  5. girts said,

    November 4, 2011 at 5:08 pm


    Answer is Reverse Engineering which needs world! Free world.

  6. Mikko said,

    November 10, 2011 at 1:33 pm


    Michael is a member of Apple invented everything in technology and everybody else are just stealing from Apple

    Michael Reply:

    Typical of Roy and crew: ignore comments you do not like and just make things up about those who make such comments to put them on the defensive.

    No, I do not claim what you attributed to me. Period. You flat out made that up. Heck, I have been very open with my views that Apple would not exist without their use of BSD, WebKit (which is based on KHTML) and other technologies they did not invent. Your claim is simply an out and out lie.

    So now can we get back to discussing issues and not your clearly false attacks against me?

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