Bananas IP case sees Apple seeking rights over actual apples

Apple Man
(Image credit: Epic Games)

Tech giant Apple Corp. has filed a lawsuit in Switzerland seeking to gain IP rights over depictions of apples. This is not depictions like Apple's stylised logo, where the apple features a bitemark and is a human creation (and of course trademarked), but depictions of actual apples, nature's bounty, one of the most ubiquitous fruits in the world, the things that grow on trees and we eat.

If that all seems a bit wild to you, a sane individual, that's because it absolutely is. The testbed for this bizarre battle is Switzerland and the core disagreement looks likely to be with Fruit Union Suisse, a venerable collective for fruit producers that's been around 111 years (thanks, Wired). And do you know what those dastardly Swiss farmers went and did? Around 100 years ago they came up with their symbol, which is a red apple with a white cross (i.e. the Swiss flag design), flagrantly disregarding the rights of a company that would be founded around 50 years later on a different continent.

Apple first attempted to trademark a depiction of an apple in 2017, submitting a realistic black-and-white depiction of a Granny Smith (which are usually green) to the Swiss Institute of Intellectual Property. The application covered various uses of the imagery and, while the Swiss IP institute didn't give Apple everything it wanted, it did grant some rights, while citing a legal principle about generic imagery of common items to deny most others. The latter denials are what Apple is now ap-peeling.

Sorry, won't do that again. If you're wondering why opposers might make a big deal about a fairly generic image of an apple being trademarked, it's because if Apple could get this it would basically give the company something of a legal bludgeon to wield over any image of an apple that is a similar shape and of any colour. Which, I mean, apples is apples so…

This is exactly why it's locking horns with Fruit Union Suisse, which understandably takes the position that people should be free to use generic images of apples on their products: especially if your business is, I don't know, selling apples.

"We have a hard time understanding this, because it’s not like they’re trying to protect their bitten apple," said Jimmy Mariéthoz, director of the Fruit Union Suisse. "Their objective here is really to own the rights to an actual apple, which, for us, is something that is really almost universal… that should be free for everyone to use.”

Amen Jimmy. Unfortunately the Wired report goes on to detail a range of similar trademark requests made by Apple about apples in other countries, including Armenia, Israel, Japan, and Turkey. It is notoriously protective of its IP rights. Fruit Union Suisse will have to prove prior usage of apple imagery, which feels like something it should be able to do, but a decision is not expected for months.

Rich Stanton

Rich is a games journalist with 15 years' experience, beginning his career on Edge magazine before working for a wide range of outlets, including Ars Technica, Eurogamer, GamesRadar+, Gamespot, the Guardian, IGN, the New Statesman, Polygon, and Vice. He was the editor of Kotaku UK, the UK arm of Kotaku, for three years before joining PC Gamer. He is the author of a Brief History of Video Games, a full history of the medium, which the Midwest Book Review described as "[a] must-read for serious minded game historians and curious video game connoisseurs alike."