TTP Investigation: Apple’s Trademark ‘Bullying’ Targets Small Businesses, Nonprofits
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 11, 2022
Contact: Michael Clauw, firstname.lastname@example.org, 202.780.5750
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Campaign for Accountability (CfA), a nonprofit watchdog group that runs the Tech Transparency Project (TTP), released a report documenting Apple Inc.’s legal targeting of small businesses and nonprofits across the country, often in unrelated fields, for potential trademark infringement. In the last three years, Apple has filed more than double the number of trademark oppositions (185) than Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and Facebook combined (81). The company’s targets have included a custom stationary business, a school district, and a nonprofit group that works with autistic children.
Campaign for Accountability Executive Director Michelle Kuppersmith said, “Apple’s overly aggressive trademark protection is nothing more than corporate bullying. Not only is Apple placing unnecessary financial burdens on dozens of small businesses and organizations, it insults its customers’ intelligence by insisting that these cases could even possibly result in brand confusion.”
While Apple’s trademark oppositions have affected a wide range of industries, it has been particularly aggressive in the field of education, where many organizations use an apple logo because of its association with teachers and learning. Some 20% of the cases examined by TTP related to the education field.
When an academy geared toward providing educational initiatives for children with autism filed an application for a logo featuring the Greek letter pi inside an apple, Apple opposed the application with a 257-page filing. It argued that it is deeply involved in education due to the fact that, among other things, it has donated iPads and Mac computers to schools, offers educational apps in its App Store, and makes GarageBand available to music teachers. The academy’s founder, Celeste Chamberlain, told TTP that she ultimately had to give up the fight and abandon the logo, after having spent more than $10,000 in graphic design and legal fees.
Apple’s aggressive trademark behavior has been consistent across two different law firms providing outside counsel, suggesting that Apple itself, not the law firms, has been the driving force behind the years-long legal strategy. Apple used Fenwick & West when it began ramping up trademark oppositions in the early 2000s. (Apple hired its current legal director, Thomas La Perle, from Fenwick in 1999.) Apple is now represented by Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton.
Ms. Kuppersmith continued, “Whoever in Apple is directing these trademark attorneys to take this tack must either imagine their litigiousness would remain hidden, or hold an extremely distorted view of ethical trademark enforcement. Apple is the most valuable company in the world, and if these examples are indicative of a larger company culture, it seems willing stoop to any level to remain that way.”
Campaign for Accountability is a nonpartisan, nonprofit watchdog organization that uses research, litigation, and aggressive communications to expose misconduct and malfeasance in public life and hold those who act at the expense of the public good accountable for their actions.