Steve Douglas on April 26th, 2008

Computer giant Apple is suing NYC over green environmental logo

I’ve always been a fan of Apple. Have used a Macintosh beginning in the mid-90s (shortly after my beloved Commodore Amiga desktop went belly-up for the last time). We use Apples at the shop, and an iPod is a permanent fixture on every vehicle I own. Once my Blackberry gives up the ghost, I’ll probably pick up a snappy new iPhone as well. Apple creates cool stuff, and for the most part, the company seems, well, cool too.

Sometimes however, corporate meanness gets in the way of cool, and even a great company like Apple makes a serious misstep that threatens to paint them as a thuggish corporate juggernaut – the very opposite of the Cupertino company’s carefully GreeNYC logogerminated brand. There was that skirmish with recording label AppleThe Beatles‘ stomping ground – over whether iTunes was in conflict with an earlier coexistence agreement (the courts decided it wasn’t). That was okay – Apple came out unscathed, seeming like they were defending the rights of teenagers to download MP3s (legally) from the online music service. This time, Apple may not be seen as the good guy, and initial internet grumblings see the popular company being called everything from bullys to enviro-thugs. At the risk of losing my Macintosh ‘fan-boy’ status, I don’t think there’s any way for Apple to win this one, and the company’s ‘cool’ image has already taken a hit.

At issue is the logo design for New York City’s environmentally friendly GreeNYC campaign, the logo (left) for which is plastered over everything from bus shelters to hybrid gasoline-electric taxicabs, billboards to recycled paper shopping bags. The GreeNYC logo features a stylized apple graphically constructed from an infinity symbol, based on the recycle logo and representing the recycling component of the green campaign. The city has applied for a trademark on the logo, but Apple has filed a formal opposition, claiming that the design infringes on its trademark. Apple is requesting that the trademark be denied, on the grounds that the NYC logo will confuse people and “seriously injure the reputation which Apple has established for its goods and services.”

Original I Love New York logo - designed in 1971 by MIlton Glaser

New York City’s response is almost indignant – “The city believes that Apple’s claims have no merit and that no consumer is likely to be confused.” According to Gerald Singleton, and intellectual-property lawyer representing NYC, “This well-known city is using its new design in a variety of contexts that have absolutely nothing to do with Apple Inc.”

Before bringing out the legal big guns, Apple will commission a series of independent surveys – industry speak for folks with clipboards in shopping malls and sidewalks – to assemble evidence proving that the mark can be confused with the computer manufacturers brand or dilutes the logo in a way that is damaging to their overall image. The dispute will take place over the next few months, before a final decision is made by the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board of the patent office sometime in the fall.

Personally, I don’t think Apple stands a chance – the logos aren’tt similar enough – and a quick trip through any Yellow Pages will find tons of companies using Apple imagery on everything from accounting to real estate logos. Taking on an environmental campaign – in today’s political climate – certainly won’t win Apple any friends either.

For what it’s worth, New York City marketing campaigns have always been brilliant, most notably the I Love New York logo – designed by Milton Glaser in 1971 and arguably one of the most successful branding projects in history (above).

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4 Comments to “Logo design dustup – Apple vs. NYC”

  1. Ben says:

    That’s ridiculous AND crazy. From a copyright perspective, the NYC logo doesn’t even have a passing resemblance to Apple’s logo. It’s not quite apples and oranges, but near enough. It’s not even as though they are trying to compete in a similar market – it’s a campaign for a greener city, not a rival electronics and computing venture. I’m baffled as to how Apple’s legal department can consider this anything but a bad idea and an unwinable challenge. At least it’ll raise awareness of the greenyc campaign, I guess.

  2. Hey Ben – thanks for stopping by. I tend to agree with you on the similarity angle. Some others have argued that Apple doesn’t really have a choice – not protesting against the trademark might be interpreted as tacit approval of others using a mark similar to theirs – but I think they’ll ultimately lose from a PR perspective. You’re probably correct about this it raising awareness of the GreeNYC campaign – there’s been a lot of chatter about this on tech, environmental and design forums. Many weren’t aware of the campaign beforehand.

  3. Jen says:

    Great points, Ben. I was totally in the dark about the NY Green campaign until this came up.

    I’m a fan and have owned Macs since the Apple green screen days (circa 1998) so I am a loyal fan. However, Apple’s “geniuses” got schooled in what a well-designed logo they could have had. They don’t want it out there to make theirs look worse. Prior to reading the article, I thought, “Apple finally updated that logo!” But, alas…

    Who designed this, anyway? I love it. The infinity symbol? A complex idea transformed into a simple one color, two part design? Now that’s genius.

  4. Jen says:

    Ha ha. Guess it wasn’t that successful in spreading the word about the campaign. This article is dated April 2008. Fail!