Nov 222012


The tech world was abuzz last week when US tech giant, Apple was reported to pay 20 million Swiss francs ($21 million, 17 million Euros) to the Swiss national rail operator, SBB. Why? Apparently, the company used SBB’s iconic design without permission for its iOS 6-updated clock, which came out recently in September.

The design of the Mondaine clock is touted as the national rail operator’s, and by extension, is one of the country’s enduring symbols. After all, Switzerland is a country known for having precision-conscious people and making better than average watches. On the other hand, the Cupertino-based firm is renowned for manufacturing gadgets with clean and slick designs. A match made in heaven? Not.

There were initial threats from the national transportation body to pursue legal action. However, like most iffy situations Steve Jobs’ former kingdom has gotten involved in, the matter has been settled amicably, to the tune of $21 million. That’s spare change for a company that reportedly has $100 billion in cash, but well, that’s not the issue.

So, what is the issue, then? For a number of players, there are quite a number:

All this time, it’s the pot calling the kettle black.

For the past few years, Apple has slapped other companies with countless cases involving copyright and patent infringementall around the world. Microsoft, HTC, Nokia, HP, Creative Technology, and Samsung are just some of the companies Apple has had (and is still having) legal spats with. From the look and feel of gadgets to the design of the menus and the technology used, it seems that every company in the world wants to copy anything coming from the hallowed halls of the industrial design lab in Cupertino.

Well, apparently, the company everyone has been trying to copy has been doing some copying themselves. Now, the company that has been placed on a pedestal as the one to “emulate” may be asked to step down and shed its holier-than-thou airs. Yes, this clock design issue may be in the minor leagues compared to those well-publicized legal battles the company has dragged its competitors into. But at the end of the day, the same competitors can use the matter as a case in their favor; after all, their accusers may also be guilty of the same crimes they are accused of.

Apple can actually play nice.

Unless you’ve been living in a cave, everybody knows that Tim Cook has been lording over the world of technology. The company has assumed an untouchable stance; a Goliath among seemingly defenseless Davids.

But when caught red-handed, the company can actually get off its high horse and pay what is required. The Swiss entity has expressed that they are not after money, but recognition for the design. But $21 million is nothing to sneeze at. Besides, isn’t it nice to see the high and mighty eat even just a slice of humble pie?

Will there be succeeding similar cases?

With the SSB getting monetary compensation for their design, will other companies be emboldened to threaten the Cupertino firm as well? German consumer products firm Braun may be next in line, with their calculators obviously “inspiring” the design of the calculator app in the original iOS. While this may be seen as digging up bygone events, the small Swiss triumph might inspire a design claiming revolution.

Whatever future events may transpire because of this, we can safely conclude that no one is spared when it comes to rules regarding patent and copyright. Even in the world of technology, justice and fair play are still present. We can only hope that those who are in the right will not hesitate to take a stand, no matter how formidable their opponents may be.

Trixie Clark
Writing blogs about technology. Visit Cash For iPads and see some of the services and benefits that they offer.
  • Benny Chua

    I dunno. As you said, this was just like a slap in the hand for Apple. And they’re still putting on those holier than thou airs.

  • Ellie K

    Seems sad to me that Apple can buy what you said was a country’s enduring national symbol. I’m not sure if the $21 million was a penalty (like a fine) or a one-time payment for exclusive right to use. Does this mean that Switzerland (and Swiss Rail) don’t have permission to use their own national symbol anymore? I hope I’m wrong.

    • Justin Germino

      This was just permission to use the symbol, not ownership of it.

      • Ellie K

        Greetings, DragonBlogger! It is nice to hear from you again. Thank you so much for clarifying. I followed the news story on Reuters when it was first mentioned, but came here for an update. That’s a good outcome, that you described. Thank you for answering my question. You are more responsive than Reuters ;o) Although Reuters IS my favorite major media news source. Their journalists and reporters actually follow you back on Twitter! Well, not all of them, but more than most. I hope all is well for you, Justin. Regards, Ellie

        • Justin Germino

          New organizations are not like blogs, they typically report and don’t respond but let readers converse among themselves. As a blog I enjoy having two way conversations with my readers, thanks for visiting and reading the article. Also feel free to partake in the many contests I have going on right now.

    • BlackWoods

      The richness of Apple is getting ridiculous.
      Americans need to stop themselves from increasing the shares of Apple Inc.

      • Ellie K

        It is like a cult, in that sentiments run so strongly about Apple, by Apple users. That isn’t a secret of course, yet recognition does not seem to make any difference. And I am inclined to agree with you, that it is an American, and Western European thing primarily. More relevant, and more to your point, is that even if there is Apple-adulation elsewhere, ownership of shares of Apple Inc., and impetus for its elevation, is likely a result of U.S. equity market participants. It is traded on either the NASDAQ (sorry, maybe NYSE?) after all.

  • Carolyn Nicander Mohr

    Hi Yvette and Justin, Excellent analysis. The world of computer hardware patents and software copyrights can get murky, but there is nothing murky about Apple using the Mondaine design without permission. This isn’t a case of someone trying to register an iDevice name before Apple does, this is much more simple and blatant.

    One thing I will give Apple credit for is supporting app developers when a patent troll tries to bring actions against the developers of iTunes App Store apps. I haven’t seen that kind of support from any other app store owner.

    That being said, Apple also behaved badly when it was forced to run ads apologizing to Samsung in the UK and did so with less than humble methods.

    • Ellie K

      Carolyn, I heard similar accounts regarding the situation with Apple and Samsung in Japan (unlike the patent case in the U.S., the ruling in Japan was not in Apple’s favor, but rather, for Samsung).

      Change of topic: I just visited your website, Wonder Of Tech. It is great! I am now your newest follower on Pinterest. I am CuriousEllie over there. I’m so happy I found you here!