Is Apple’s Patent War Getting Out of Hand?

Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) has asked a federal judge to throw out Apple’s (NASDAQ:AAPL) false advertising claim against the online retailer for the use of the “App Store” name. Apple has accused Amazon of misusing its “App Store” name to solicit developers for a mobile software download service.

In November of last year, shortly after Amazon announced the launch of its first Kindle Fire tablet, Apple added the claim to a trademark lawsuit filed earlier in the year. At the time, Amazon began calling its app store “Amazon Appstore” rather than “Amazon Appstore for Android,” which Apple said could have contributed to confusion among customers.

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But in a filing on Wednesday with the U.S. District Court in Oakland, California, Amazon said the term “app store” had become so generic that it could not constitute false advertising, adding that even current Apple CEO Tim Cook and his predecessor Steve Jobs used the term to discuss rivals.

“Apple presumably does not contend that its past and current CEOs made false statements regarding to those other app stores to thousands of investors in earnings calls,” Amazon said. “To the contrary, the use of the term ‘app store’ to refer to stores selling apps is commonplace in the industry.”

The fact of Apple’s having filed such a claim at all calls into question whether the company is becoming too litigious, making unreasonable claims to stir up negative press for competitors rather than because of real infringement issues. It’s unlikely many, if any, iOS users were so confused by the “Amazon Appstore” that they began purchasing Android apps for their iDevices, which means Apple is calling foul where there’s been no harm done.

Apple has an enormous cash stockpile and a team of patent lawyers ready to take on its competitors whenever the opportunity arises. And in its case against Samsung in the U.S., Apple’s efforts paid off in spades, landing it a massive damages claim, giving it grounds to ban the sale of some Samsung devices, and tarnishing its biggest competitor’s reputation.

But there’s some concern that Apple is hindering innovation, at least among its competitors, which are being weighed down by legal fees while having to carefully design and redesign their products so as not to infringe on Apple patents. So while these litigious wars may be good for Apple, and in turn good for Apple investors, they’re bad for the tech industry, and bad for the consumer.

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