Apple won’t be able to use the term “multi-touch” as part of its patent and trademark arsenal, thanks to a decision handed down by the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). The organization’s Trademark Trial and Appeal Board has denied for a second time Apple’s application for the term, reiterating that the term has become generic and now refers to a wide variety of tech involved in the creation of various gadgets.
Apple applied for the “multi-touch” trademark when it first introduced the iPhone to the public at the Macworld Expo in January of 2007. At the time, Apple was one of the only major consumer electronics companies to use the term multi-touch to describe the functionality of its products, but other manufacturers were quick to follow Apple’s lead. Today, touchscreen smartphones, tablets and other gadgets can be found everywhere—many, but not all, of them capable of processing more than one touch event at a time—resulting in a pretty broad use of the term multi-touch by just about everyone.
The USPTO denied Apple’s original application and Apple appealed, arguing that the term had “acquired distinctiveness” and should only be restricted to Apple’s own products. During the appeal hearing, USPTO lawyers discussed the degree of descriptiveness needed in order to keep the term limited to Apple products, but concluded that the term has grown much broader over the last several years and could not be restricted.
“Again, simply because the applied-for term has been used in association with a highly successful product does not mean the term has acquired distinctiveness,” wrote the USPTO’s Trademark Trial and Appeal Board.
This is not to say that Apple doesn’t own other intellectual property related to multi-touch functionality, though there has been plenty of debate on that side as well regarding whether some of those patents are too broad (or even too narrow) to be used properly against Apple’s competitors.