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Amazon's "Appstore for Android" and Apple's "iTunes App Store", side by side in web form.

  (Source: 20th Century Fox)
Lawsuit is a major test of generic trademarks in the tech industry

Amazon.com, Inc., the U.S.'s largest e-tailer, refused to listen to Apple, Inc.  After all Apple couldn't possibly think it could legally enforce its "ownership" of the term "app store" could it?

Well Amazon.com tested Apple's resolve, rolling out a third-party app store for Android (Google allows such things), dubbed "Appstore for Android".  The new app store launched today featuring over 3,800 apps, including Angry Birds: RIO, which is available for one day only as a free promotional download.

Apparently Apple deemed that term was sufficiently close to "App Store", for which it was granted a trademark.  It filed suit in northern California federal court.

Apple is seeking unspecified damages and an immediate cease and desist, preventing Amazon from using the name.  Apple's lawyers write, "Amazon has begun improperly using Apple’s App Store mark in connection with Amazon’s mobile-software developer program.  Amazon has unlawfully used the App Store mark to solicit software developers throughout the United States."

The gadget maker may be hoping to have a home court legal advantage.  Amazon.com is based out of Seattle, Washington.  Companies often try to press intellectual property cases in their home state.  While there is supposedly no bias, the local company often wins.

Kristin Huguet, a spokeswoman for Apple states, "We’ve asked Amazon not to copy the App Store name because it will confuse and mislead customers."

Apple says in the court filing that it contacted Amazon.com with threats three times and only filed the suit after it failed to respond.

The suit raises serious question about whether trademarks on generic terms inherently associated with a type of business are unfair.  In recent years the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has granted many such trademarks.  

For example, Apple owns the terms "App Store"  (applications are a general term for software) and "iMovie" (here the letter 'i' was merely appending on the word movie for a movie related software).  Similarly, Adobe owns the term "Illustrator" (illustration is a term meaning "drawing" and all drawing programs acts as an "illustrator", so to speak).  And Microsoft owns the names "Windows" (all modern operating systems feature windows) and "Word" (all word processors use words).

The issue of generic trademarks definitely needs to be resolved, as these lawsuits not only wreak havoc in the business world, but also cost the public tax money, as the federal court system where they're contested isn't free by any means.  In the meantime, it should be interesting to see how Apple's crusade against Amazon.com goes.

Apple was passed by Android last year in U.S. and global sales. 

Microsoft is currently suing Apple, claiming the term "App Store" is too generic and was improperly granted a trademark by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.





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