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USPTO denies Apple 'Multi-Touch' trademark, calls it 'merely descriptive'

post #1 of 50
Thread Starter 
Apple has been denied an appeal for the "Multi-Touch" trademark because the term has been viewed as too broadly descriptive.

The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board of the United States Patent and Trademark Office issued the ruling late last week, as noted by MacRumors.

Apple filed for the trademark on January 9, 2007, the day the original iPhone was unveiled. The company quickly took its campaign for the trademark overseas, even as analysts foresaw the creation of a "mega-platform" around the new technology.

The examining attorney at the USPTO denied the original application on the basis that the proposed mark is "merely descriptive of applicant's goods." Apple then submitted an amendment arguing that the multi-touch term had "acquired distinctiveness." But, the examiner disagreed with the characterization and stuck to the initial ruling.

The Cupertino, Calif., iPhone maker subsequently appealed to the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board. The Board held a hearing in April and ultimately refused the appeal, citing the precedent that "the greater the degree of descriptiveness the term has, the heavier the burden to prove it has attained secondary meaning.

The ruling upheld the fact that the multi-touch term is "highly descriptive" and noted that Apple had submitted insufficient evidence to establish "acquired distinctiveness" of the mark.

Apple's claim to the trademark was undermined in part because, after the release of the iPhone, rival handset makers quickly added multi-touch functionality to their own products. Though Apple was the first to use the "multi-touch" name and sought to trademark it as its own, the term's distinctiveness was diluted by its immediate adoption as a generic term for the technology.

For its part, Apple asserts that "touchscreen" and "capacitive" are the generic terms for the input technology and "multi-touch" is the company's proprietary name for it. Apple also asserted that three other smartphone makers have trademarked the touch screen features of their devices, but the Board viewed that fact as having little relevance to whether the mark in question was merely descriptive.

Though Apple has been unsuccessful in its efforts to trademark "multi-touch," it has been more effective at attaining patents related to the technology. In 2009, Apple was awarded a 358-page patent relating to the iPhone interface and multi-touch technology. Last October, the company received approval for a batch of multi-touch-related patents.



Also, patent experts noted that a broad multi-touch patent granted to Apple in June may allow it to "bully" its rivals. One report called the patent a "huge blow" to the company's rivals, such as HTC, Samsung, Motorola, Research in Motion and Nokia.

Apple has asserted some of its multi-touch patents against competing handset makers alleging that their touchscreen smartphones are in violation of its intellectual property.

The company has also had to defend itself from claims that its multi-touch technology infringes on others' patents. Taiwanese touchscreen maker Elan Microelectronics sued Apple last year, accusing the company of "knowingly and deliberately" infringing on its patents through its MacBook trackpads and Magic Mouse product. A judge with the International Trade Commission ruled in April that Apple had not violated the patent.
post #2 of 50
Unlike say ... Windows? (reference to why I joked about this for Ireland http://apple.slashdot.org/story/11/0...-So-Is-Windows

Out of interest, how many true multi-touch systems exist in the market place.
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post #3 of 50
Quote:
Originally Posted by digitalclips View Post

Unlike say ... Windows?

Out of interest, how many true multi-touch systems exist in the market place.

Your point would be valid if Microsoft sold actual windows.
post #4 of 50
A good ruling. This time I think Apple was totally wrong.
post #5 of 50
At least Apple got the patent on the technology. That's far more important.

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post #6 of 50
Quote:
Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post

"the greater the degree of descriptiveness the term has, the heavier the burden to prove it has attained secondary meaning.

I got this in a fortune cookie yesterday!

Seriously though, I think this is the right ruling. Imagine if every keyboard manufacturer was sued because their customers use more than one finger at a time.

Bad example, but I'm reaching!
post #7 of 50
Quote:
Originally Posted by jd_in_sb View Post

At least Apole got the patent on the technology. That's far more important.

I agree. A patent protecting the technologies at work I think are more important than the name.
post #8 of 50
Quote:
Originally Posted by digitalclips View Post

Unlike say ... Windows?

You have lost all credibility.
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post #9 of 50
Redundant
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post #10 of 50
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ireland View Post

You have lost all credibility.

Oh gosh... Your opinion is so important to me. Seriously though, explain your statement given Apple themselves commented that Windows was very geric recently in another trade mark case relating to apps stores and to which I was making a reference in an obviously too subtle attempt at humor.

But hey, at least you thought I had some before you failed to get my joke
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post #11 of 50
Even though patents and trademarks are clearly quite different things, I can't help feeling that there is something odd about granting Apple the patent on their multi-touch technology, but then refusing to let them trademark an obviously accurate and descriptive name for it.
post #12 of 50
Quote:
Originally Posted by muppetry View Post

Even though patents and trademarks are clearly quite different things, I can't help feeling that there is something odd about granting Apple the patent on their multi-touch technology, but then refusing to let them trademark an obviously accurate and descriptive name for it.

I'd agree, in fact that should have been taken into account.
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post #13 of 50
Quote:
Originally Posted by majjo View Post

Well, the patent is the important one.
I guess the question is was the term multi-touch in usage before the iPhone, because touch devices that could handle multiple inputs existed before; I just don't know if the term multi-touch was used to describe them.

I wonder if Apple have alternatives in mind? At least no one else can use multi-touch.
Correction I meant no one else can TM it.
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post #14 of 50
I really hope the brain trust over in Cupertino has a lot more up it's sleeve than more BS lawsuits like this.

Imagine if Kroger tried to patent "Grocery Store" and "Shopping Cart," then went after Whole Foods, Safeway, and Albertsons for infringement? This is getting out of hand.
post #15 of 50
Quote:
Originally Posted by digitalclips View Post

I wonder if Apple have alternatives in mind? At least no one else can use multi-touch.

No. It means that everyone can use it.
post #16 of 50
Quote:
Originally Posted by majjo View Post

No, this means everyone can use multi-touch (ie. no one has exclusive rights to the term).

Of course i meant any one can 'use it' but not trade mark it. I wonder if Apple have another trade mark idea along similar lines. Usually marketing a phrase not trade marked isn't a good idea.
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post #17 of 50
Quote:
Originally Posted by Chris_CA View Post

No. It means that everyone can use it.

I miss spoke I meant no one else can trademark it.
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post #18 of 50
Quote:
Originally Posted by digitalclips View Post

I miss spoke I meant no one else can trademark it.

No worries.
After all, this is AI.

Everyone is required to mess up or post FUD at least once.
post #19 of 50
Quote:
Originally Posted by majjo View Post

Well, the patent is the important one.
I guess the question is was the term multi-touch in usage before the iPhone, because touch devices that could handle multiple inputs existed before; I just don't know if the term multi-touch was used to describe them.

I think that my discomfort is misplaced, primarily because Apple have patented their particular implementation of multi-touch. Other multi-touch implementations are possible that could be argued to have equal rights to the generic name. Still feels wrong.
post #20 of 50
Quote:
Originally Posted by Cash907 View Post

I really hope the brain trust over in Cupertino has a lot more up it's sleeve than more BS lawsuits like this.

What lawsuit?

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post #21 of 50
Quote:
Originally Posted by sciwiz View Post

Your point would be valid if Microsoft sold actual windows.

Wasn't the term "window" already in common use to describe part of a GUI back when MS trademarked it? Not sure I understand your point. MS did sell windows... GUI windows.
post #22 of 50
The problem for Apple is that other companies are now free to call their touchscreens Multi-Touch even though they lack the features covered by Apple's patents. Multi-Touch will therefore not be associated with Apple's unique features.

The court seemed to say that Apple did not make it obvious that Multi-Touch was supposed to be perceived as a trademark by the average consumer. Apparently the court wanted to see Multi-Touch in a big starburst on the front of every iPhone box, the way Color Guard is on a box of Cheer detergent.
post #23 of 50
Quote:
Originally Posted by digitalclips View Post

I'd agree, in fact that should have been taken into account.

I suspect what was also taken into account is that there are several different technologies to achieve a 'multi-touch' interface. Allowing only one company to use that descriptive term would be like letting only one company use the term "personal computer"


Quote:
Originally Posted by Cash907 View Post

I really hope the brain trust over in Cupertino has a lot more up it's sleeve than more BS lawsuits like this.

That will be pretty easy to achieve since this wasn't a law suit. It was an administrative appeal handled by a small group of people. probably 12 at most. Perhaps even only 1-2.

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post #24 of 50
Quote:
Originally Posted by inkswamp View Post

Wasn't the term "window" already in common use to describe part of a GUI back when MS trademarked it? Not sure I understand your point. MS did sell windows... GUI windows.

You still don't have it quite right. Windows is a synecdoche, as it were, of the OS. Just as Pages is a synecdoche of the word processor.

If Windows had patented "Operating System" it would be equivalent (for say, Windows 3.1.)

If Apple had patented "Word Processor" it would be equivalent (for Pages.)

See the difference? One refers to an element of the thing, the other just refers to the thing itself.

If I sold a pair of shoes called Laces it would be equivalent to Pages or Windows. If I sold a pair of shoes called Shoes it would not be equivalent.

Anyone still not getting this? (I feel that maybe I've been too thorough.)
post #25 of 50
Quote:
Originally Posted by DeanSolecki View Post

You still don't have it quite right. Windows is a synecdoche, as it were, of the OS. Just as Pages is a synecdoche of the word processor.

If Windows had patented "Operating System" it would be equivalent (for say, Windows 3.1.)

If Apple had patented "Word Processor" it would be equivalent (for Pages.)

See the difference? One refers to an element of the thing, the other just refers to the thing itself.

If I sold a pair of shoes called Laces it would be equivalent to Pages or Windows. If I sold a pair of shoes called Shoes it would not be equivalent.

Anyone still not getting this? (I feel that maybe I've been too thorough.)

Yeah, I get it... Apple should have gone for "Fingers"
post #26 of 50
Quote:
Originally Posted by DeanSolecki View Post


Anyone still not getting this? (I feel that maybe I've been too thorough.)

Don't worry! "Ive" got it.
post #27 of 50
Quote:
Originally Posted by krabbelen View Post

Yeah, I get it... Apple should have gone for "Fingers"

The rough equivalent would be something like Swipe or Flick, although its Indian Name could perhaps be "Dances with Fingers."
post #28 of 50
Wonder if they have applied for. "finger-tips" which is what the little user guide is called that comes with the iPhone etc
post #29 of 50
Quote:
Originally Posted by majjo View Post

Well, the patent is the important one.
I guess the question is was the term multi-touch in usage before the iPhone, because touch devices that could handle multiple inputs existed before; I just don't know if the term multi-touch was used to describe them.

MITSUBISHI ELECTRIC RESEARCH LABORATORIES
DiamondTouch SDK: Support for
Multi-User, Multi-Touch Applications
Alan Esenther, Cliff Forlines, Kathy Ryall, Sam Shipman
TR2002-48 November 2002

http://www.merl.com/papers/docs/TR2002-48.pdf

Multi-touch term was also used long before this - from 1985

A multi-touch three dimensional touch-sensitive tablet, SK Lee et al
CHI '85 Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on Human factors in computing systems
ACM New York, NY, USA ©1985
ISBN:0-89791-149-0

http://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=317461

Only take you seconds to find many bits of research predating the iPhone that use that term.
post #30 of 50
Quote:
Originally Posted by DeanSolecki View Post

The rough equivalent would be something like Swipe or Flick, although its Indian Name could perhaps be "Dances with Fingers."

"I hear there's a technology called 'Multi-Touch', I'd like to hear more."
"Well, you could just 'Google', 'Swipe' or 'Flick' it."
"I hear Samsung has already 'Swiped' it."

iPad, now with 'Apple Dance'. 'Let your fingers do the dancing.'
post #31 of 50
The Moen faucet company has a trademark on One-Touch. I wonder how that slipped by...
post #32 of 50
So let me get this straight. The USPTO is happy handing out vague patents but not descriptive TradeMarks?

And everyone wonders why America's economy is heading down the toilet. How can anyone make any money when idiot acts like this open companies up to litigation.

Maybe Apple should just buy the USPTO and save themselves a world of hurt by scumbags who don't innovate.
post #33 of 50
Quote:
Originally Posted by lowededwookie View Post

So let me get this straight. The USPTO is happy handing out vague patents but not descriptive TradeMarks?

And everyone wonders why America's economy is heading down the toilet. How can anyone make any money when idiot acts like this open companies up to litigation.

Maybe Apple should just buy the USPTO and save themselves a world of hurt by scumbags who don't innovate.

It's safe to say the patents office isn't the reason America's economy is heading down the toilet. Bad foreign and homeland policy and the housing bubble are far more important.
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post #34 of 50
Samsung devices: now with Multi-Touch!
post #35 of 50
Quote:
Originally Posted by muppetry View Post

Even though patents and trademarks are clearly quite different things, I can't help feeling that there is something odd about granting Apple the patent on their multi-touch technology, but then refusing to let them trademark an obviously accurate and descriptive name for it.

Merely descriptive words and phrases, like "wooden table", cannot become trademarks. Not unless the public already strongly associates it with a particular source of goods or services, like maybe "the tiny purple pill".

The whole intent behind trademarks is to identify the source of goods for the benefit of the public, in order to forestall confusion about who makes the product. The intent is totally different from the intent behind granting patents, which is to benefit the inventor by granting a monopoly.
post #36 of 50
Quote:
Originally Posted by majjo View Post

I guess the question is was the term multi-touch in usage before the iPhone, because touch devices that could handle multiple inputs existed before; I just don't know if the term multi-touch was used to describe them.

It makes no difference whether somebody else used the descriptive phrase before or not. That would only matter if the phrase were eligible for trademark protection in the first place.


Think about somebody making tables in a variety of colors, and trying to get a trademark on "Wooden Tables in a Variety of Colors".
post #37 of 50
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ireland View Post

It's safe to say the patents office isn't the reason America's economy is heading down the toilet. Bad foreign and homeland policy and the housing bubble are far more important.

Also, staggering greed.
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post #38 of 50
Quote:
Originally Posted by Magic_Al View Post


The court seemed to say that Apple did not make it obvious that Multi-Touch was supposed to be perceived as a trademark by the average consumer.

That did not enter into the decision one way or the other.

However, if the public actually did associate the phrase with Apple's stuff, then Apple would have had a fighting chance.
post #39 of 50
I hear 'Touch in Multiple Places' is still available.
post #40 of 50
What functional value do awarded patents have if judges hoot them off the stage when their owners try to ensure that they are enforced? If a patent claim is "overly broad", "obvious" or has already been awarded, why does the patent office issue a new patent? I, for one, never heard the "too broadly descriptive" term "Multi-Touch" until Apple patented it and I understood that it referred to a vocabulary of gestures used on a trackpad.

A recurrent them lately has been that Apple never invented anything.
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