Apple, Microsoft Hire Linguists in App Feud

Originally published March 30, 2011

By Ian Sherr

Microsoft Corp. and Apple Inc. have both hired linguists to serve as experts in the tech titan’s ongoing battle over whether or not the government can grant a trademark for the term “app store.”

Microsoft on Tuesday filed its latest argument with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, which included the opinions of a linguistic expert who supported the software giant’s argument that the term “app store” was generic and shouldn’t be trademarked by Apple.

“The compound noun app store means simply ‘store at which apps are offered for sale,’ which is merely a definition of the thing itself—a generic characterization,” linguist Ronald Butters wrote.

An Apple spokeswoman declined to comment.

Microsoft hired Mr. Butters to counter Apple’s own linguistic expert, Robert Leonard, who asserted that the electronics giant’s “App Store” was a proper noun and deserved to be trademarked, even though the words are generic when separated.

The legal tussle has become a prime example of how litigious the technology industry has become following the rapid sales growth of smartphones and tablet computers. Nearly all mobile-device makers are actively suing or defending themselves in lawsuits against one another.

Apple, in particular, has been the target of lawsuits from a variety of companies spanning from device makers like Nokia Corp. and patent holders such as Eastman Kodak Co., all looking to either block the consumer electronics giant’s efforts or grab some share of its success.


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(Published March 30, in The Wall Street Journal.)