Microsoft Opposes Apple's App Store Trademark Attempt

Microsoft has asked the US Patent and Trademark Office to deny Apple a trademark on the term "App Store," arguing that it is generic, has been used by many companies, and should be open to competitors. The software giant even threw out an amusing curveball, noting a discussion by Apple CEO Steve Jobs in which he described how various competitors also had their own app stores.

"Microsoft opposes Apple's application for APP STORE on the grounds that 'app store' is generic for retail store services featuring apps and unregistrable for ancillary services such as searching for and downloading apps from such stores," a 27-page Microsoft filing reads. "'App' is a common generic name for the goods offered at Apple’s store, as shown in dictionary definitions and by widespread use by Apple and others. 'Store' is generic for the 'retail store services' for which Apple seeks registration, and indeed, Apple refers to its 'App Store' as a store."

The USPTO responded immediately to the filing, marking Apple's trademark request with the note, "an opposition is now pending at the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board." Apple's original trademark request dates back to July 2008, according to USPTO documentation.

In its filing, Microsoft argues that "app store" is commonly used by "the trade, the general press, by consumers, by Apple's competitors, and even by Apple's founder and CEO Steve Jobs, as the generic name for online stores featuring apps." (Emphasis is Microsoft's and appears that way in the filing.) The software giant then quotes Jobs as saying that "Amazon, Verizon, and Vodafone have all announced that they are creating their own app stores for Android. There will be at least four app stores on Android which customers must search through to find the app they want and developers will need to work to distribute their apps and get paid." (Again, emphasis is Microsoft's and is republished here exactly.)

Microsoft is seeking a summary judgment because the facts in the case are obvious, with no genuine issue for a trial. That is, the company simply wants the USPTO to throw out Apple's App Store trademark attempt, preventing the Cupertino giant from "usurping" its use. Much of the filing concerns proving that the term—and the words within—are generic, and that Apple itself has used those terms generically again and again. Many competitors and unrelated companies (e.g., DirecTV, MobiHand, Shopify) also use the term App Store to refer to and brand their own online stores, Microsoft notes.

Microsoft, oddly enough, doesn't actually use the App Store name, at least not yet. That said, it has maintained various app stores for many, many years, including Windows Marketplace, Windows Phone Marketplace, Zune Marketplace, Xbox LIVE Marketplace, and the Microsoft Store (among others). Many of these stores pre-date Apple's App Store. (And you thought Microsoft didn't innovate.) What Microsoft is asking for is the ability to use the term "app store" to generically refer to its own app stores—not just for itself, but for all companies.

Microsoft also asserts that Apple has already begun threatening companies that use the term "app store." Using "demand letters," Apple is informing these companies that using that term is an infringement of Apple's rights.

This is an important fight. As I've noted again and again, any major technology platform these days—be it PC-, web-, or mobile-based—needs an app store in order to be viable and competitive. Denying the makers of these platforms the right to describe their online stores, even generically, as "app stores" is like taking away a basic part of the language.

In this case at least, Microsoft is right. Apple may have popularized the app store concept, but the company did not invent it, nor does it own the concept. I'm calling on the USPTO to do the right thing and deny Apple its trademark request via summary judgment, and to do so immediately.

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