Apple is trying to trademark a very simple image of an apple

Swiss farmers have used an image of the fruit in their logo for decades. The tech company is now suing them.
Wicker basket with apples spilled on grass
Apple has submitted trademark applications for a photo of a Granny Smith apple to dozens of countries. Deposit Photos

One of the latest battles in Apple’s long-running legal quest to own the very idea and image of the “apple” itself is currently taking place in Switzerland. According to a Wired UK profile on Monday, an 111-year-old fruit farmer organization called Fruit Union Suisse continues to fret over the possible ramifications of its national courts potentially granting the trillion-dollar Big Tech company IP rights for a mundane, black-and-white image of a Granny Smith apple. If the ruling ultimately sides with Apple, Fruit Union Suisse could be forced to alter its decades’ old symbol of a Swiss national flag’s white cross superimposed upon a red apple.

Credit: Fruit Union Suisse

Few corporate logos are more iconic and instantly recognizable than Apple’s minimalist imagery. Anywhere the bitten fruit design appears, iProducts are sure to follow—a fact that reportedly perplexes representatives of the farmer’s organization. “…[I]t’s not like they’re trying to protect their bitten apple,” director Jimmy Mariéthoz explained to Wired. Mariéthoz worries the company’s attempt to own the basic image of an “actual apple” infringe on an almost universal concept and object. “Theoretically, we could be entering slippery territory everytime we advertise with an apple,” they continued.

Apple’s attempts at copyrighting actual fruit in Switzerland first began in 2017. Per its legal filings, the company aims to encompass apple-related application within electronic and digital media, consumer hardware and products, as well as “downloadable sound and video records featuring or relating to music, entertainment and films.” According to Wired, Swiss courts only granted IP rights to some of Apple’s requests last fall, leading the company to file an appeal in April 2023. Meanwhile, other countries including Australia, China, Denmark, Israel, Japan, and the UK have proven far more accepting of Apple’s trademark claims.

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Tech corporations’ aggressive enforcement of trademarks surrounding arguably broad concepts and images aren’t limited to Apple—Microsoft has long targeted uses of “Windows,” for example. But according to an investigation last year courtesy of the nonprofit Tech Transparency Project, Apple has filed more trademark oppositions than its competitors at Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and Meta combined. According to Tech Transparence Project, others targeted by Apple have included “an organization that supports families of children with autism, a school district in Appleton, Wisconsin, and an online test prep service for nursing students.”

As the nonprofit’s report explains, small business owners who find themselves on the wrong side of Apple are at a severe disadvantage, given that they simply can’t afford to pay legal fees required to push back on trademark claims. For Fruit Union Suisse, “millions” of dollars may be needed to design and implement logo rebrands if they lose their battle against (uppercase) Apple.