Anything that allows users to know the source of goods or services functions as a trademark, including smartphone app icons.
One of the newest “trademark battlegrounds” are the smartphone application marketplaces, such as the Apple App Store, and Google Play. Similar to the cereal aisle in the supermarket, the smartphone application marketplaces are filled with trademarks that are competing with each other to stand out.
How can app developers and companies protect their icons from being infringed upon by competitors? The simplest answer is utilizing both common trademark rights and seeking the added benefits provided by federal trademark registrations. In such a competitive environment, it is important for businesses with apps to do all they can to protect their app icons as trademarks.
Smartphone Application Icons are Trademarks
Smartphone application icons allow customers in app marketplaces to know the source of a smartphone program or service based on unique colors, logos, letters, and more. By creating distinctive and unique smartphone app icons, businesses can receive common law trademark protection because their icons function as source identifiers for consumers. The more distinctive the color patterns, designs, and shapes the stronger the app icon will function as a trademark.
Many people are instantly able to recognize these companies by their distinctive app icons alone. The more unique the colors and designs are, the more trademark protection an app icon will receive.
Some app icons that are instantly recognizable are famous brands that use their logo as their app icon. Companies that design app icons that incorporate their brands’ famous logos will receive more trademark protection under common law trademark principles.
Famous brands often opt to incorporate their logos into their app icons, which works well for trademark purposes
Smartphone Application Icons can be Registered Trademarks
In addition to common law trademark rights afforded to smartphone application icons, owners can also apply for and receive federal trademark registrations for their app icons with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). A federal trademark registration for app icons gives their owners additional benefits not given by common law trademark rights alone. For the most brand and trademark protection, especially in such a competitive space, it is necessary for businesses with apps to obtain trademark registrations for the icons.
For app icons that do not incorporate already famous logos or symbols, it is even more important to seek trademark registration rather than rely on common law. Big brands may be able to enforce trademark rights for their app icon based on fame alone, but for up and coming competitors, it is harder to argue trademark infringement based on common law trademark rights.
Maybe the most iconic smartphone app icon of all is the Facebook icon, which is a registered trademark with the USPTO. Above is the registration for the app icon, in color, and for many different classes of trademark services.
Do you have an app icon you want to register as a trademark with the USPTO? Contact us today for a Free Trademark Consultation and one of our attorneys will get back to you within twenty-four hours.