Cupertino’s technology giant Apple Inc. has one of the most widely-recognized logos in the world. All over the planet, on the backs of iPhones or Macbooks, you can see that simple picture of an apple with a bite taken out of it.
Apple is notoriously protective of that logo, and some critics say overly protective. In recent years, the company has made an effort to assert its rights against all kinds of organizations that use images of an apple — the fruit — in their logos.
When is an apple just an apple?
A recent story details Apple’s dispute with the Fruit Union Suisse, a 111-year-old guild of fruit growers in Switzerland. For generations, the fruit company’s logo has shown a white apple on a red background, in a visual reference to the Swiss national flag. Recently, Apple Inc. has tried to argue that its trademark rights are so strong that the Swiss farmers can no longer use their logo.
In recent years, Apple has taken similar actions against individuals and organizations all over the world, in all types of industries, including a meal kit company, a musician and a school district. Not all of the tech company’s efforts have been successful, but some have. Few individuals or businesses have the resources to take on a legal dispute with a corporation as deep-pocketed as Apple Inc.
The limits of trademarks
Ordinarily, trademark rights are limited to certain areas of commerce. For instance, a rock band that has a registered trademark on the name Chair might have have the right to use that name in the music industry, on T-shirt designs and similar items, but would not be able to prevent a totally unrelated business, such as a furniture manufacturer, from using the word “chair.”
Likewise, Apple Inc. has the right to use the name “Apple” within the technology industry, but can’t prevent other businesses from using the word “apple” when they are selling fruit.
Things can get trickier when dealing with symbols, such as Apple Inc.’s famous bitten-apple logo. But still, there are only so many ways to depict an apple. One might ask, “Does any depiction of an apple infringe on Apple’s trademark rights? When is an apple just an apple?”