Microsoft Guy Vs. Apple Guy

Who’s got the coolest expert?

A fascinating dispute is unfolding between Apple, which claims the right to the trade name ‘App Store’, Microsoft, which says ‘app store’ is generic, and the expert linguists they have hired to present their respective cases.

Microsoft filed its latest argument with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office backed with the opinions of linguist Ronald Butters, who supports the software giant’s argument that the term “app store” was generic and shouldn’t be trademarked by Apple.

Microsoft hired Dr. Butters to counter Apple’s own linguistic expert, Robert Leonard, who asserted that the electronics giant’s “App Store” was a proper noun and deserved to be trademarked, even though the words are generic when separated.

Whatever the finer linguistic points of either case in this intriguing tussle over words and names, it is remarkable how Messrs. Butters and Leonard seem to be ideally suited to the brands they represent.

For Microsoft, we have the worthy Dr. Butters, Professor Emeritus, English & Cultural Anthropology, at Duke University.

For Apple, we have Robert Leonard, a longtime Hofstra University linguistics professor. Oh, and he’s a founder member of Sha Na Na, the 1960s rock n’ roll group.

Apart from helping to track down a serial killer and training FBI and international agents in forensic linguistic techniques, Mr. Leonard sang bass, wearing gold lamé and a pompadour hairdo, for Sha Na Na when they opened for Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock in 1969.

Did I mention Dr. Butters is Professor Emeritus, English & Cultural Anthropology, at Duke University?

An early encounter with a naming problem may have nudged Mr. Leonard towards his current distinguished career.

The group began singing as part of an a capella group, The Kingsmen, at Columbia University in the 1960s. Another group with the same name hit pay dirt in 1963 with the song “Louie, Louie”. So Robert Leonard and Co decided a new, more distinctive name was in order. Sha Na Na was born.

Sha Na Na came from a line in the hit song “Get A Job,” performed by the Silhouettes (watch them here) in 1957. You know the words:

Sha na na na, sha na na na na,
Yip yip yip yip yip yip yip yip
Mum mum mum mum mum mum

Get a job, sha na na na, sha na na na na.

But back to the more mundane matter in hand – my non-trademark expert view is that while the term “app store” may be generic, many trademarks are combination of ordinary pieces.

As the Economist points out, The Container Store is a registered trademark, for example. You couldn’t start a “container store” under that name without expecting to hear from their lawyers.

I don’t know whether it has any bearing, but there is the ‘app’ word part from Apple’s name that might strengthen their case. Anyway, their expert is way cooler than Microsoft’s (no professional disrespect to Dr. Butters).

What do you think?  “App Store” or “app store”? Or should we all just get a job? Sha na na na, sha na na na na.

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4 thoughts on “Microsoft Guy Vs. Apple Guy

  1. Fabulous article with special resonance for a child of the ’60s like myself. It made me smile though I disagree that app store is trademarkable.

    If only all corporate naming issues were this interesting!

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