Apple’s application to trademark the term “Multi-Touch” has been rejected by the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). The application was filed four years back on January 9th, 2007, the day Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone at MacWorld.
Apple’s request had been initially turned down by a USPTO lawyer, so Apple had appealed to the Appeal Board.
Although the iPhone brought Multi-Touch Screens to the masses, the concept was known even before the device was launched as 9To5Mac notes. In fact a Wikipedia article on Multi-Touch says that the first implementation of a Multi-Touch capacitive screen dates back to 1977, at CERN. It later went on to become a subject of extensive research, with multiple papers written on it and even a TED Talk being given on the same subject. Throughout these documents and videos the term multi-touch is used several times.
The USPTO unsurprisingly maintained its earlier position of denying Apple such a trademark, and said that “Multi-Touch” has become very generic these days with almost every modern smartphone coming with such a screen. No doubt the iPhone was one of the first to support multi-touch gestures, but Apple failed to meet the required criteria set by the USPTO to determine the distinctiveness of a term. This criteria takes into account the success, length and exclusivity of use of the term.
The document uploaded to Scribd by MacRumors cites various examples of news articles where the term “Multi-Touch” has been used to describe features of products like the Palm Pre, Nexus One, tablets and netbooks. An excerpt from the decision reads:
Thus, from the foregoing, we find that “multi-touch” not only identifies the technology, but also describes how a user of the goods operates the device. Based on the evidence discussed above, as well as other evidence in the record, we agree with the examining attorney that MULTI-TOUCH indeed is highly descriptive of a feature of the identified goods. We now consider whether applicant has submitted sufficient evidence to establish acquired distinctiveness of this highly descriptive term.
A quick scan through Apple’s entire list of trademarks reveals that almost all the terms refer to technology developed at Apple, like FaceTime, Cocoa or Objective-C. Multi-Touch on the other hand was in development since a long time in labs and companies that were’t associated with Apple.
So what do you think, is this rejection justified? Shout out in the comments section.