Apple Inc. vs. Actual Apples: The Unusual Trademark Battle in Switzerland

The Fruit Union Suisse, Switzerland’s oldest and largest fruit farmer’s organization, is facing a peculiar challenge. Apple Inc., the technology behemoth, is attempting to secure intellectual property rights over images of apples. This move has left the Swiss fruit growers, who have used a red apple with a white cross as their symbol for over a century, in a state of confusion and concern.

Jimmy Mariéthoz, the director of Fruit Union Suisse, expressed his bewilderment at Apple’s objective to own the rights to an actual apple, a universal symbol that he believes should be accessible to all. This case is not an isolated incident. Records from the World Intellectual Property Organization reveal that Apple has made similar requests to intellectual property authorities worldwide, with Japan, Turkey, Israel, and Armenia already conceding.

Apple’s pursuit of the intellectual property rights of a fruit as generic as an apple is indicative of the aggressive competition in the global IP rights industry. The tech giant’s efforts to secure the trademark in Switzerland started in 2017, when it requested the IP rights for a realistic, black-and-white depiction of a Granny Smith apple from the Swiss Institute of Intellectual Property (IPI). The request was partially granted last fall, and Apple has since launched an appeal.

The Fruit Union is worried about the ambiguity surrounding the uses of the apple shape that Apple will attempt to protect. They fear that any visual representation of an apple could potentially be impacted, which would significantly restrict their operations. Apple has a history of pursuing what it perceives as infringements on its trademarks aggressively, targeting a variety of entities, including a meal-prepping app, a singer-songwriter, a German cycling route, stationery makers, and a school district.

However, Apple’s attempts to secure trademarks have not always been successful. In 2012, Swiss Federal Railways won a $21 million settlement after proving that Apple had copied the design of the Swiss railway clock. In 2015, an existing “apple” trademark in Switzerland, obtained by a watchmaker in the 1980s, forced Apple to delay the launch of its popular Apple Watch in the country.

The outcome of the current case in Switzerland will not be known for months, possibly years. For the Swiss apple growers, the stakes are high, with potential rebranding costs amounting to “millions”. Mariéthoz emphasized that they are not looking to compete with Apple and expressed frustration that Apple is trying to claim a symbol that predates the company by thousands of years.

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