Apple sues Amazon over Appstore! When will these names stop?


Apple CEO Steve Jobs introduces the iPad 2 on stage during an Apple event in San Francisco this month. (Beck Diefenbach/REUTERS)

“Those things are different,” Amazon.com explained. “Say, do you want to read this book we just came up with, about a boy wizard named Harrypotter? It’s totally original.”

Still, this is almost reverse Kleenex syndrome. Isn’t it possible to coin a generic word without it turning into a Whole Big Trademarked Thing? Just when you think you’re using a simple, descriptive word, Apple claims it owns it. “Hey, look, it’s a Thing on the Internet,” I’ll say.

“You can’t say that,” Apple will yell. “Things on the Internet (TM) are what this company is built on!” But this seems almost like Lady Gaga trying to sue people for naming a breast-milk ice cream Baby Gaga. “That’s a trademark,” she insists. Based on this, I assume her hobby is lurking around babbling toddlers shouting, “TM! TM! TM!”

If people keep claiming that simple, straightforward terms are their copyrights, where will it stop? Everything will have a foolish, idiosyncratic name, not just online music download services and most babies. It’s ridiculous. Make up a nonsensical word that is pronounced differently than it’s spelled, and you probably have either a medicine, a car, something that plays music, or, occasionally, a Greek mythological figure you hadn’t thought about in a while.

What’s sad is that we barely notice anymore. Take us back 50 years and we’d sound like we were constantly having mild strokes and had lost control of our language centers, or were William Blake — but I repeat myself, English majors! “Hey, I need an iZune to charge my iPod nano, because Pandora isn’t working on my Android.” “What?” the other person in this interaction would say. “You come back to 1961 and that’s the first thing you say? You aren’t going to, you know, invest heavily in the opposite of corn, or warn us about Supermoon?”

Grandparents never cease to tire of pointing this out. “In my day, when a man tried to Google you, you had him arrested!” they cackle. “Bing? He’s that gentleman who sings at Christmas. Ke$ha? That’s just a lot of funky-sounding nonsense with a weird bit in the middle.”

Based on names, it’s impossible to tell what anything is. Elantra? Could be a car. Could be a Vulcan mating season. Hulu? Could be a Web video service. Could be something slimy and purple that emerges every 30 years from the New York sewers and bays at the moon. Viagra? Could be a little blue pill. Could be Verdi’s greatest work. Who knows!

That’s why I wish Apple weren’t suing. Whatever happened to calling an app store an app store? Now I’m terrified I’ll wind up at the hardware store and have to call a spade a — bzloof, or something.

Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day. She is the author of "A Field Guide to Awkward Silences".
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