Has Apple finally abandoned its sad claim to the 'Multi-Touch' trademark?

jobs multitouch

Apple's press release for the new 128GB iPad contains an unusual concession from the company: the word "multitouch." Seriously. It's been more than five years since Apple first introduced the iPhone, and it's never once used the word "multitouch" — it's always been "Multi-Touch™" with that charming unregistered trademark symbol.

And yet here we are today, with Autodesk's Amy Bunszel quoted in the official Apple press release for the new iPad:

"These files are often large and highly detailed so having the thin and light iPad with its Multitouch display, integrated camera and all-day battery life, is a real advantage for iPad users to view, edit and share their AutoCAD data."

Never mind all those questionable comma errors — check out that random capitalization of "multitouch," like it's a proper noun. It's in a quote, so there's a chance Apple didn't edit it, but that would be quite a branding error — like letting a game developer call it the "iTouch" in an iPod touch press release. Press releases like this are thoroughly vetted by lawyers before they go out, and that random capital M literally made me laugh out loud. It's like Apple finally gave up on the hyphen and trademark symbol, but couldn't quite let go all the way. Then again, it has be hard after over five years of effort that achieved virtually nothing.

It sort of makes sense, if you're a hotshot young attorney with a bad BMW habit and nothing to prove

Apple's used "Multi-Touch" since literally the first minute Steve Jobs uttered the word, with a conspicuous pause between syllables and a handy slide behind him displaying the hyphenated form. The goal, as with any trademark, was to convince the public that "Multi-Touch" on Apple devices is a proprietary technology somehow distinct from all the other multitouch displays in the world. If you squint right and imagine you're a hotshot young attorney with a bad BMW habit, it sort of makes sense, in the same way that "E Ink" makes sense as a trademark. But it was always unfortunate: here's Apple, the leader in minimal design, allowing its lawyers to brutalize the perfectly functional word "multitouch" with two capital letters, a hyphen, and a superscript. Gross.

"We are not sympathetic to applicant's arguments."

Apple immediately applied to trademark "Multi-Touch" after the iPhone was announced in 2007, and after five years of trying to convince the Trademark Office that the word was "distinctive" to consumers, the US Trademark Trial and Appeals Board finally shut things down about a year and a half ago. "We are not sympathetic to applicant's arguments," wrote the court in September 2011, after citing numerous uses of "multitouch" describe competitive products from the Palm Pre to the Nexus One to various Windows PC. "It is not apparent... to what extent 'Multi-Touch' has made an impression on purchasers."

The defeat clearly took some time to set in at Cupertino

The defeat clearly took some time to set in at Cupertino: six months the court denied Apple its registration, the company announced the Retina MacBook Pro, featuring a "glass Multi-Touch™ trackpad." Four months later, the company announced the iPad mini, with a "stunning 7.9-inch Multi-Touch™ display." Apple wasn't allowed to use the famous ® mark, which indicates a formally protected registered trademark, but it could still let people know it thought "Multi-Touch" was important enough to merit the informal, unregistered ™ symbol. Not that anyone has ever cared.

Apple didn't respond to my request for comment when I reached out earlier today, but I'm hoping the new iPad's "Multitouch" display is a sign that common sense has finally prevailed in the halls of Apple Legal. That capital M is a little weird, sure, but it's a start. After years of working the legal system to protect what was unique about the iPhone in 2007, maybe Apple's realized it's better off spending time and money making sure the iPhone stays unique in 2013.

Update: Sources tell me that Apple does not traditionally use the ™ sign in quotes from others, and that the company may still assert some trademark rights to Multi-Touch. But that still doesn't explain the use of incorrect branding in the new iPad's press release — again, it would be like using "iTouch" in the release for a new iPod.

The Verge
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