There's An App For That - But Only From Apple...?

I guess we should have seen this coming – or not.  As reported by CNN on Tuesday, Apple has obtained a federal trademark registration for its slogan, THERE’S AN APP FOR THAT.  Well, ok…CNN got it wrong; the PTO has only just accepted Apple’s Statement of Use, which means that a registration is imminent, but we’ll let CNN slide on this one.

So, umm…why is this news exactly?  Companies register slogans all the time in a rather poor attempt to protect their “flavor of the month” taglines.  Well, I suppose it’s because this seems like a bit of a departure for Apple, the company that is usually relatively “open” with its trademarks.  After all, this is the company who started the i-whatever craze, trying to brand all of its products with a leading, lowercase “i”, yet doesn’t seem to care when everyone else uses “i” as the leading element of their trademarks.  Well, ok – I’m sure they care.  Now.  But they were a little late to the party with the whole “caring about it” thing, and now they have a hard time “caring about it” with any legal oomph.  So, maybe Apple has gotten tired of people trading off its goodwill (finally), or maybe the tagline has become so important and so ubiquitous that Apple felt compelled to try and stick its flag in the ground somewhere.

In my view, Apple probably picked the wrong mark to try and protect here.  Look, slogans are all well and good.  They’re catchy, fun, and memorable.  But they have short shelf lives.  My standard advice to clients as far as slogans go is unless they’re really short (and they rarely are), and unless you’re going to use them for a long, long time (and nobody ever does), registering them is a waste of time, because they’re almost always descriptive and they’re so wordy that they’re pretty easy for someone to borrow from without being guilty of infringement. 

Maybe the Apple slogan is just catchy enough that it gets past the first issue, and maybe they’re committed to using it for a looooong time.  But that really hasn’t helped the “Got Milk?” folks from suffering through “parodies” and plays off their slogan.  I’m not sure why Apple thinks they’ll achieve a different result in this case.  But in any event – I wish them luck.


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