Apple Wants to Own Rights to Images of Real Apples

Apple is reportedly flexing its legal muscle in several countries around the world in order to secure intellectual property rights to images of actual apples, the kind that you eat.

Wired reports that the Cupertino, California-based tech giant first filed an application to own the international trademark rights for a realistic, black-and-white image of a Granny Smith apple.

The image Apple trademarked in Switzerland.

In its filing, Apple sought to obtain rights for a wide range of uses for the image, including electronic, digital, and audiovisual consumer goods and hardware. This trademark has been widely granted and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), a UN agency that promotes and protects IP intentionally, shows that Apple now has protected use of it in a lengthy list of countries that includes Australia, Canada, Japan, the UK, and many more.

In Switzerland, Apple filed to trademark the Granny Smith image in 2017 with the Swiss Institute of Intellectual Property (IPI). After a drawn-out process, the protection was granted in the fall of 2022 for some of the goods and services Apple wanted to use the trademark for. For others, the IPI concluded that generic images of common goods such as apples are in the public domain.

Apple appealed that decision, and now the legal case is moving through the Swiss courts.

Now a 111-year-old organization called Fruit Union Suisse, the oldest and largest of its kind that represents roughly 8,000 apple farmers, is voicing concern that it may soon have to change its logo if Apple prevails. The group’s logo is of a red apple (without a bite) with the white cross from the Swiss national flag superimposed on it.

A comparison of the iconic Apple logo (left) and the logo of Fruit Union Suisse (right).

“We have a hard time understanding this, because it’s not like they’re trying to protect their bitten apple,” Fruit Union Suisse director Jimmy Mariéthoz tells Wired. “Their objective here is really to own the rights to an actual apple, which, for us, is something that is really almost universal … that should be free for everyone to use.”

“We’re concerned that any visual representation of an apple—so anything that’s audiovisual or linked to new technologies or to media—could be potentially impacted. That would be a very, very big restriction for us. Theoretically, we could be entering slippery territory every time we advertise with an apple.”

While it is common for companies to fiercely protect their trademarks — you can be stripped of your trademark protections if you do not properly defend them — the concern is that Apple (the company) receiving trademark protections for generic images of actual apples (the fruit) could give it the ability to go after an excessively broad range of apple images with similar shapes and different colors.

A Granny Smith apple on the Walmart website that looks similar to the image trademarked by Apple.

Fruit growers and other businesses that use apples in their branding or business are now closely following the case, which could take months or even years to be resolved.

“You know, Apple didn’t invent apples … We have been around for 111 years,” Mariéthoz tells Wired. “And I think apples have been around for a few thousand more.”