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Microsoft keeps gunning after Apple's 'generic' App Store trademark, brings in a linguistics expert

Vlad Savov
03.30.11
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We'd say this was getting silly but that would imply that it wasn't already. Microsoft and Apple are still at each other's throat over the latter's trademark application for the term "App Store," with Microsoft now bringing in a Dr. Ronald Butters, Professor Emeritus at Duke University and a man with a taste for hardcore semantics. He says the compound noun "app store" is perfectly generic in that it "does not merely describe the thing named, it is the thing named." In a wildly geeky turn, he references the potential for someone discovering a use for masers and trying to trademark the term "maser store" in response, which would seem immediately and logically absurd. An app store, says the good doctor, is no more capable of being trademarked than a grocery store or a stationery store or a computer store.

Of course, as with most trademark disputes, what's truly at stake here isn't linguistics, but a big fat wad of consumer goodwill. Having previously been quite uncomfortable with the idea of buying additional software for his mobile phone, Joe Consumer has nowadays grown quite accustomed to dropping little chunks of change on smartphone apps, and the terminology that sets his mind at ease most readily is indeed "app store." Preventing others from using that well established moniker would clearly be a significant competitive advantage for Apple and it's pretty hard to argue with its contention that it's responsible for generating the goodwill that sits behind it. Then again, we reckon Android's Market, webOS' admittedly small App Catalog, and other moves by the likes of RIM, Nokia and Microsoft itself with WP7, haven't done the app store cause any harm either, so in purely ethical terms it still seems a little rich for Apple to be claiming the app store crown all to itself. As to the legal battle itself, it's descending into quite amusing minutiae, but its outcome will be of great interest to most of the aforementioned mobile ecosystem purveyors.

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