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Apple vs. apples: The tech giant is fighting to trademark the fruit

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

When you think of the tech company Apple, do you think of that iconic logo - the silhouette of an apple with a bite taken out? Well, Apple owns the trademark for that logo, meaning they have the exclusive right to use it. In Switzerland, the company is now trying to take that protection further. Apple wants to trademark the apple, as in the fruit. Here to tell us more about Apple's trademark battle is reporter Gabriela Galindo. Hey there.

GABRIELA GALINDO: Hi. Hi, Mary Louise. Thanks for having me.

KELLY: OK, so let's get a little bit more detail about what exactly Apple is trying to do in Switzerland. What's their claim?

GALINDO: Yeah. So what Apple has done in Switzerland is that they applied for a trademark of an apple - so, an image of an apple. And specifically, they're trying to gain rights over a photographic - a really true-to-life depiction of an apple variety that's called the Granny Smith. Now, this is the generic green apple that you can find in the supermarket anywhere. And so they want to own the rights to that particular image in Switzerland, and they applied for that protection to the IP rights office in Switzerland. It's called the IPI. And last fall, the IPI said you can have it, but only for some of the goods that you want it for. So then now what's currently happening is that Apple is appealing that. And so what Apple wants is full protection and not just the limited number of goods that the IPI institute agreed to give it for.

KELLY: I'm just trying to wrap my head around this. The image of an apple - a Granny Smith apple - seems - it seems so common, so generic. Can a company, even one called Apple, really make the claim to own it?

GALINDO: Well, that's the big question, really. We will not know that until the court reaches its decision and that can take months. That could take years. But what's interesting here is that, beyond Switzerland, there are countries that have granted it protection for this particular apple. Some examples of countries who have given it is Israel, Japan, the European Union, the African Union have given it.

KELLY: Do we know why Apple is doing this? What do they stand to gain?

GALINDO: No, I have no idea, and I think nobody knows. They did not reply to my questions. And I think, you know, it's Apple. It doesn't really communicate so much about its business strategy, so it's a big mystery. Nobody really knows.

KELLY: So I want to bring in one other group that has a stake in this, and this is Swiss apple farmers. They, for more than a century, have had a logo that depicts an apple, as you would expect, with a white Swiss cross. This is, like, a play on the Swiss flag, I guess. Tell me where they fit in here.

GALINDO: Yeah. So this could potentially be a big concern for apple growers in Switzerland, and there's an association of growers in particular that is the oldest - the largest, and their fears go as far out as, you know - are we going to be able to continue advertising with our logo?

KELLY: With a picture of an apple, yeah.

GALINDO: Yeah, with their actual fruit that they are growing, so...

KELLY: Are people in Switzerland talking about this? Are people following this?

GALINDO: Yeah, it's been on the media - on the national media. And everyone's a bit baffled, I guess. You know, it's a bit of a colorful story, but it does highlight this real asymmetry in power that a big corporation has to keep fighting this however long they want versus the small growers that is just, you know, literally farming apples. And are they going to have to go into, like, incredibly expensive litigation just to be able to continue doing what they're doing, which is in no way a threat to Apple?

KELLY: Yeah. Gabriela Galindo is a contributor for WIRED. You can read her story, headlined "Apple Is Taking On Apples in a Truly Weird Trademark Battle." It's up at wired.com. Thanks, Gabriela.

GALINDO: Thank you, Mary Louise. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michael Levitt
Michael Levitt is a news assistant for All Things Considered who is based in Atlanta, Georgia. He graduated from UCLA with a B.A. in Political Science. Before coming to NPR, Levitt worked in the solar energy industry and for the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, D.C. He has also travelled extensively in the Middle East and speaks Arabic.
Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.
Kai McNamee
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
Justine Kenin
Justine Kenin is an editor on All Things Considered. She joined NPR in 1999 as an intern. Nothing makes her happier than getting a book in the right reader's hands – most especially her own.
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