Did Apple just become a patent troll?

Only if Amazon is, too.

By Motley Fool Pick of the Day Mar 22, 2011 2:15PM

By Tim Beyers


Some days, watching the tech news cycle is like watching a soap opera. The Web is abuzz today with news that, on Friday, Apple (AAPL) sued Amazon.com (AMZN) for violating its trademark on the term "app store." Amazon's using the term to describe the digital market for Android apps that it's launching today.


On the surface, the suit seems loony. Don't we all use "app" and "app store" as generic terms? With each, we're describing broad concepts. Sure, iPhones have apps --  but so does every other smartphone out there. And where do we get these apps? App stores, of course. Even Steve Jobs says so. Microsoft (MSFT) has filed a petition to invalidate Apple's app store patent precisely because of our propensity to use these terms in common speech.


But don't be too quick to burn your mock turtleneck in protest. Amazon.com may have opened this particular can of worms when it patented "one-click checkout" more than a decade ago. Apple has since licensed the term for use in its own digital stores.


Now their roles are reversed. Apple contacted Amazon three times, demanding that the retailer stop using "app store" in describing its efforts to sell mobile software, Bloomberg reports. Apparently, the folks at Cupertino received no "substantive" response.


As a result, Apple alleges that Amazon.com unlawfully recruited software developers by trading on the "app store" moniker. Really? As if coders didn't already know that Google (GOOG) was working overtime to get more of them writing Android software? Claims don't come more ridiculous than that.


Yet the broader point remains. If Amazon can patent an ordering system and naming scheme, why can't Apple patent an app store? Pot, meet kettle.


Do you agree? Disagree? Let us know what you think about Apple's lawsuit, Amazon.com's Android app store (sorry, Apple), and the state of patent and trademark filings using the comments box below.


Fool contributor Tim Beyers owned shares of Apple and Google at the time of publication. Google and Microsoft are Motley Fool Inside Value picks. Google is also a Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommendation. Amazon.com and Apple are Motley Fool Stock Advisor selections. Motley Fool Options has recommended members create a bull call spread position in Apple and a diagonal call position in Microsoft. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, Google, and Microsoft and has written Apple puts. The Fool is also on Twitter as @TheMotleyFool. Its disclosure policy is looking for patentable ideas. Got anything?

Mar 22, 2011 2:26PM
We will soon see all the words in the dictionary patented by big business. Then you will need to pay a royalty for every word you say.
Mar 23, 2011 2:02AM
Dear author of article,

Please do some research before writing a fluff article like this again. If you had prior to this piece, you'd have discovered that there's a huge difference between a patent and a trademark.  Yet you conflate them in this text for no apparent reason other than to generate traffic for MSN. Apple wants to trademark the name "App Store."  It doesn't want to patent the concept, and it makes no sense to compare its motives to Amazon's in enforcing the "One-click" patent.  That was an idea, which, although being extremely simple, was determined to be novel and non-obvious (at least for a time).  Apple is not alleging that there is anything novel about an app store.  Apple's saying that the name is distinctive for its product and it distinguishes that product from app stores hosted by other parties. So no, Apple did not just become a patent troll.  

I don't think this article is worth correcting.  You should consider removing it from the website.

Mar 22, 2011 4:27PM
Does not surprise me that Apple is bringing such a silly suit....just goes to show you how arrogant they are. It remains to be seen if they win. Amazon is a big company to come up against....they can hold their own.
Mar 23, 2011 4:01AM
I agree with jonesy243.
To the author and other readers, patents and trademarks are two different categories of intellectual properties and they protect different aspect of a technology/product. 
There is no such thing as "the words in the dictionary patented by big business". Patent is patent, we patent an invention, and not patent a "word" or trademark.
Apr 19, 2011 9:20PM
The definition of patent troll:

browse to www.google.com; search for "<my product> vs *"; pick the first result; pay lawyers to figure out something to sue someone, anyone about something, anything;
Mar 23, 2011 1:06AM
I'm not sure it's a case of arrogance. I believe it is more of a case that they are playing strategically in the large patent infringement game that is going on in the tech world as of late.

Eric Corl

Please help us to maintain a healthy and vibrant community by reporting any illegal or inappropriate behavior. If you believe a message violates theCode of Conductplease use this form to notify the moderators. They will investigate your report and take appropriate action. If necessary, they report all illegal activity to the proper authorities.
100 character limit
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?


Copyright © 2014 Microsoft. All rights reserved.

Fundamental company data and historical chart data provided by Morningstar Inc. Real-time index quotes and delayed quotes supplied by Morningstar Inc. Quotes delayed by up to 15 minutes, except where indicated otherwise. Fund summary, fund performance and dividend data provided by Morningstar Inc. Analyst recommendations provided by Zacks Investment Research. StockScouter data provided by Verus Analytics. IPO data provided by Hoover's Inc. Index membership data provided by Morningstar Inc.


StockScouter rates stocks from 1 to 10, with 10 being the best, using a system of advanced mathematics to determine a stock's expected risk and return. Ratings are displayed on a bell curve, meaning there will be fewer ratings of 1 and 10 and far more of 4 through 7.

125 rated 1
267 rated 2
455 rated 3
612 rated 4
682 rated 5
695 rated 6
632 rated 7
472 rated 8
279 rated 9
147 rated 10

Top Picks

TAT&T Inc9



Top Stocks provides analysis about the most noteworthy stocks in the market each day, combining some of the best content from around the MSN Money site and the rest of the Web.

Contributors include professional investors and journalists affiliated with MSN Money.

Follow us on Twitter @topstocksmsn.