Is Apple’s protection of its brand unreasonable?

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Have Apple overstepped the mark and caused more harm than good to their brand?

Apple has files a notice of opposition with the US Trademark office, against a start-up trying to trademark a logo based-on a pear. The developers of Prepear, an app that helps children discover recipes, plan meals, make lists, and arrange grocery deliveries are reportedly facing litigation from Apple who’ve taken issue with Prepear’s logo, arguing that its attributes are too similar to its own brand mark.

As a specialist branding agency who spend every waking moment striving to build value for our client’s and their brands, we are as focused as anyone on protecting the value we work so hard to help create. However, when it comes to large global businesses (and keep in mind Apple is the world’s most valuable brand) using their weight and considerable legal clout to unreasonably restrict start-ups, we’re not big fans.

The key concept here is ‘reasonableness’. And the challenge is whether is the grey area of brand recognition, a court of law will be able to clearly draw the line between visual identity attributes that are too similar or not. In these cases, the weight of legal representation can often make the difference for where a ruling may fall. All of which encourages start-ups, especially those with a social purpose, to fold and run rather than fund a lengthy court action they’re unlikely to win.

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Other brands Apple has taken to court over brand identity similarities. Lots of apples, no pears.

Which puts to focus back onto big brands such as Apple to behave as responsible leaders in a business ecosystem. Whilst the world of business has always had a ruthless side, it is an ecosystem that requires the regeneration of start-ups as much as it relies on the millions of established small businesses to maintain its role in our economy. In the same way the competition is good for any market, new ideas, new players and disruptors are equally, or even more important.

In every category in every market the largest players have a right to protect their brands from being copied or passed-off by competitors. However, they also have a responsibility to play a lead role in encouraging growth, competition and fairness. In our view, the behaviour of Apple in this case is a blatant overstepping  of brand protection. As a creator of brands for more than thirty years I can confidently and categorically assure you that no consumer or business partner could or would ever confuse the Prepear logo and the Apple logo. As simplistic as that perspective may sound, that is all that should need to be proven for Apples litigation to be dismissed.

Prepear have launched a petition on www.change.org in an attempt to gain publicity and support for their plight. On their petition page they share their perspective: “It is a very terrifying experience to be legally attacked by one of the largest companies in the world, even when we have clearly done nothing wrong, and we understand why most companies just give in and change their logos. We feel a moral obligation to take a stand against Apple’s aggressive legal action against small businesses and fight for the right to keep our logo. We are defending ourselves against Apple not only to keep our logo, but to send a message to big tech companies that bullying small businesses has consequences”.

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The world of social sentiment has not taken kindly to this latest court action. Usually a darling of online users, the social commentary around the Prepear litigation has been widespread and stinging. here’s just a taster of sentiment:

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We wish Prepear well and hope this case may act as a turning point for big business to take a leadership approach to reasonableness in future cases of brand protection.

Truly Deeply is an Australian-based branding agency with 30 years experience working with brands to position them for growth. Our deep expertise is in the creation of high engagement brands that attract the attention of their audience and stand out from their competitors. We have a deep expertise working with corporate, retail, food & beverage, health and property clients. Find out more here
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