Amazon, Apple Battle Over App Store Trademark Claims

Amazon has fired back at Apple over the rights to trademark "app store," as Amazon's Appstore for Android positions to battle Apple's App Store. has filed a counterclaim to Apple's lawsuit over the term "app store," which the online retailer argues is a term too generic for trademarking.

Apple originally filed a lawsuit against Amazon March 18, claiming the rights to "app store" in the wake of the online retailer's launch of an Appstore for Android. That storefront exists independently from Android Marketplace, the cloud-based bazaar that offers hundreds of thousands of apps for Android-based smartphones and tablets.

Amazon isn't the first company to lock horns with the Cupertino, Calif., tech giant over "app store." Microsoft and Apple are already locked in battle over the latter's idea to trademark the term, with Microsoft arguing in a filing before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's Trial and Appeal Board that "app store" is "generic for retail store services featuring apps and unregisterable for ancillary services such as searching for and downloading apps from such stores."

Now, Amazon is making similar claims that "app store" is a term too generic for one company to trademark.

"Defendants admit that Amazon has not received a license or authorization from Apple to use the term -app store,'" reads Amazon's response, "and contend that no such license or authorization is required because 'app store' is a generic term, and Amazon's use of the term causes no likelihood of confusion, dilution, or unfair competition."

Amazon then launched a counterclaim against Apple, asking the court to dismiss the latter's trademark claims to the term "app store." The online retailer also asked that Apple pay attorney's fees and expenses, along with "any such other and further relief as the court deems appropriate."

The counterclaim boils everything down to linguistics:

"Based on their common meaning, the words 'app store' together denote a store for apps, such as the app stores operated by Amazon and Apple," the filing continues. "The American Dialect Society, a leading group of U.S. linguists, recently voted 'app' as the 'Word of the Year' for 2010, noting that although the word 'has been around for ages,' it 'really exploded in the last 12 months.'"

Indeed, it adds, "the words 'app store' are commonly used among many businesses competing in the app store market."

Both Amazon and Microsoft face something of an uphill battle against Apple's App Store, which contains the most apps by volume. Apple has already started expanding the app store franchise beyond mobile devices to its Mac line of PCs, with a Mac App Store that offers full-screen apps. The storefront operates in a similar manner to Apple's App Store for iOS, allowing users to purchase and download apps in one click. The Mac App Store will prove an integral part of the company's upcoming Mac OS X 10.7 "Lion."

Microsoft argued in its own case that the term "app store" is commonly used "in the trade, by 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." In light of that, the counsel argued, Apple should be denied a lock on the name.

Apple begged to differ.

"Microsoft, missing the forest for the trees, does not base its motion on a comprehensive evaluation of how the relevant public understands the term APP STORE as a whole," reads a Feb. 28 filing by Apple with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. "What it offers instead are out-of-context and misleading snippets of material printed by its outside counsel from the Internet and allegations regarding how the public allegedly interprets the constituent parts of the term APP STORE, i.e., 'app' and 'store.'"

If nothing else, these cases stand to give everyone an exhaustive lesson in linguistics.