EU Courts Order Apple to ‘Think Different’ About Its Iconic Slogan

EU Courts Order Apple to ‘Think Different’ About Its Iconic Slogan
Photo: Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

On Wednesday, the European Union’s highest court officially ruled that Apple isn’t the only company that can “think different” anymore. The bloc’s Court of Justice on Wednesday officially rejected the tech giants’ bid to hold onto its EU trademark of its once-iconic slogan, giving any non-Apple company in the region the right to poach the tagline.

The decision is the result of a request from Swatch. The Swiss watchmaker applied with EU authorities to have Apple’s trademark annulled in 2016 on the basis that Apple just wasn’t using the slogan anymore — and Swatch, on the other hand, was actively using the phrase “Tick Different” in its own marketing campaigns.

Image: Rob Janoff/Wikimedia CommonsImage: Rob Janoff/Wikimedia Commons

The European Courts took Swatch’s side. In the bygone year of 2018, regulators noted at the time, Apple’s only examples of telling customers to “think different” were occasional blips on the Apple website “to commemorate famous people or special events.” The company hadn’t made use of the slogan in a way that needed trademarking for about a decade, the court found.

Apple appealed the decision The courts held firm. In mid-2019, Apple filed a case in Swiss court to stop Swatch’s use of the slogan. It was dismissed. At the start of 2021, Apple brought thee actions against Swatch before the General Court of the EU. And today, those got dismissed, too:

The Court notes that, contrary to what Apple claims, the Board of Appeal’s conclusion as to the distinctiveness of the contested marks is not contradicted by a body of evidence aimed at proving that they have been put to genuine use.

Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

The iMac maker first came up with “Think different” as part of an ad campaign in 1997 and immediately registered that phrase as as a trademark with authorities in both the U.S., its home base, and in the EU. The Court’s announcement notes that Apple registered that same trademark again in 1998 and 2005, ostensibly because the company has always loved hoarding trademarks.

Suffice to say, it’s not 2005 anymore. The iPhone didn’t even exist then. The company hasn’t told its customers to “Think Different” about their iPhones or Macbook Pros in years. The phrase appeared nowhere in its annual developers’ conference, WWDC, just a few days ago.