Category Archives: Genericity

A linguist walks into an app store… (part 1)

You’re no doubt aware by now that Apple and Microsoft have hired linguists as expert witnesses in their battle before the Patent and Trademark Office about whether Apple can trademark the expression App Store. Robert Leonard is testifying (actually, report-ifying) for Apple and Ron Butters is doing the same for Microsoft. Their reports are available here (Leonard) and here (Butters), and the electronic docket for the case, with links to the other filings, is here. (Warning: a few of the links seem to be broken.)

The issue that Leonard and Butters are opining about is whether the expression App Store is a proper name that distinctively identifies the particular location in cyberspace where one goes to get apps for one’s iPhone, as Apple contends, or whether it is a generic term for stores where one gets apps of any kind, as Microsoft argues.

I’m not going to comment here on who I think should win this fight, but I do want to make a few observation about some broader (and narrower) issues, starting with a look at how genericness (a/k/a genericity) is regarded in trademark law on the one hand and in linguistics on the other.

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