Apple agrees on licensing terms for use of iconic Swiss Federal Railways clock design

“Apple has agreed to pay the Swiss national railway (SBB) for use of its iconic clock design in iOS 6’s Clock application,” Aaron Souppouris reports for The Verge.

“That agreement didn’t take too long to materialize, as SBB today announced that the two companies have agreed upon and signed a licensing agreement,” Souppouris reports.

“Neither company has disclosed how much the agreement is costing Apple,” Souppouris reports.

Apple's Clock app (left). Swiss Railway clock (right).
Apple’s Clock app (left). Swiss Federal Railways clock (right).

Full article here.

Related articles:
Apple to meet Swiss Federal Railways over iPad iOS 6 Clock app icon – September 24, 2012
Swiss Federal Railways accuses Apple of copying its iconic railway clock – September 21, 2012


  1. Apple. Complete hypocrites copying like they did. The SBB should have written an open letter: “We are not the clock designers for the world. It’s not ok to steal other people’s intellectual property. We work hard to design or products and are happy that the outcome of this was in our favour.”

    1. There are HUGE differences between this situation and the Samsung case. This was not Apple ripping off a competitor’s product in an effort to fool & steal customers. Also, Apple obviously recognized that they did wrong and quickly came to a mutual agreement. Samsung refuses to acknowledge they are slavish copiers and con artists.

      1. Yes. I agree this is not on the scale of Samsung vs Apple. Having said that, I’m not a fanboy and only partly agree with Apple about Samsung copying them.

        I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. Apple has cut it’s nose off to spite its face. They’ve locked themselves into a narrow design language with the iPhone… So many different designs out there of smartphones and the SIII is unique and very good. Now that Apple has burned some bridges in the industry companies will get vengeful. Chances are if Apple changes the design of the iPhone they’ll end up looking like the other guys. And they’re bound to get sued over it. Look at how much the new Nano looks like the Lumia… Yes it also looks like an iPod Mini. But it’s worth noting because the Lumia is a unique SHIPPING design.

        In the end Apple stole another company’s design. Period. And used it in one of their products. They are furious when others do this to them as they perceive it. Therefore, they’re hypocrites.

        1. I suppose everyone is entitled to their opinion, but most of yours fly in the face of very well-established realities over the last few years. If Apple did change any of it’s designs, it most certainly would not be like anything else out there; it would be something completely new, and they would patent it, and then the Samdungs of the world would jump on board and copy Apple again. In the end, even an ugly painting is “unique”, but it is still ugly.

          Lumia…what’s that. Nobody really cares about Nokia now; except the the Apple haters, and most of the general population doesn’t ever know you exist. Go into an average place of business, or a cafe, or a restaurant and ask what they know about Apple-haters and you’ll probably get a blank stare.

          I simply don’t understand your reference to “Shipping design”. What’s not shipping? the Lumina? the Mini is a discontinued model, along with several other models of various designs that no longer ship.

          Burned bridges? Sure there are a probably a few individuals or even few business that have not gotten their way in their dealings with Apple, but that is true of just about anyone in life. You can’t please absolutely everyone. Apple has done far better than anyone else, however. Apple gets sued because they are so much more successful, everyone is trying to get a piece of the pie by filing nuisance suits.

          You state a conclusion like you were privy to every fact. Most of us can read between the lines to a more plausible explanation. Someone responsible for the design had seen the swiss clock while traveling and thought it was cool. They didn’t even consider the copyright issues; by the time it was done and processed into the system, everyone liked it. After release, and someone pointed out that it was a copyrighted look, Apple management decided that they liked it enough to license it rather than change the look of the clock.

          As far as the Apple/Samsung case. If you have to look twice to find the differences, then you are too close. The minute Samsung changed their designs to look like Apple, they were copying. They got too close and stole the overall look and feel of Apple’s idevices. Hypocrite, thy name is Samsung (and supporters/apologists).

          Thank you and have a pleasant day.

          1. Apple copied their design exactly. Period. And they’re paying for it. They’re hypocrites for not getting permission.

            If you believe that some guy from Apple was travelling and saw a clock then designed it from memory where it ended up as an App on their front line product, you’re truly delusional. They copied it by printing it off, pictures, etc. and made it look EXACTLY like the original.

            Regardless of any of that, they copied someone else’s design.

            1. No, it’s not exact. The relative width of the hands, the relative length of the tick marks, etc. is different.

              (Taking a leaf out of Samsung’s playbook): OH! MY! GOD! Apple designed a ROUND clock with HANDS! They EVEN LEFT OFF THE NUMBERS! And that RED DOT on the end of the secondhand. Do you KNOW how much R&D expense went into that RED DOT?

              Get a grip and quit manufacturing things to ding Apple about.

            2. You are far too certain of your suppositions. You are obviously grinding an ax that is of no interest to the rest of us. This is a trivial IP matter settled in a professional manner between two mature companies. It is in no way comparable to the Samsung scenario.

              By the way, look at the two clocks. They are highly similar, but *not* exactly the same — width of hands, length and width of minor ticks. You are reasonably unreasonable.

        2. We’ve been over this. The new Nano looks a lot like Apple’s actual products that have been released in the past.

          Who knows if Apple actually copied the design of the clock or if they came up with it in-house. It’s a railroad company in Switzerland, for goodness sake, so it could have been one rogue designer who had seen the clock at some point in his life. The railroad company is not as widely-known as Apple, which is why we don’t call this copying (if it is that) “slavish” in this case.

          As for Samsung, even though they have been iterating since the first copycat design, it was that first copycat design that got them customer attention. This is harmful to other companies like Nokia who actually were trying to produce something genuinely innovative rather than just be copycats.

          1. Actually, the Hans Hilfiker clock is an iconic design that can be seen at MoMA and is very well known in the design community. There is absolutely no way that this was a coincidence or simply something that was a residual image in a designer’s mind. I’m sure that whoever was responsible for copying this design at Apple was simply trying to pay homage to a classic design, but they definitely should have contacted the SBB about licensing it first.

            The SBB has no problems licensing out the design – I actually purchased a Mondaine replica of this clock from the MoMA shop.

            The big difference here for all those who are somehow trying to draw a parallel between Apple and Samsung is that when offered the opportunity to rectify the situation via licensing, Apple did so immediately. Samsung refused Apple’s offer to do the same, and continued to knowingly infringe. Big difference.

    2. 1. There’s a difference between making a product look EXACTLY like someone else’s product and copying something small like a clock face.

      2. At least Apple agreed to pay the company for that idea instead of dragging it through court like Samsung.

      1. No. There is no difference. Remember, it’s supposed to be about values and not patents or money? The value of unique design and innovation and not copying others: as Cook stated after the Samsung trial:

        “For us this lawsuit has always been about something much more important than patents or money. It’s about values. We value originality and innovation and pour our lives into making the best products on earth. And we do this to delight our customers…”


        1. It seems to me that Apple paid up as soon company officials realized the clock design was a derivative work (and immediately after this first was called to their attention). Hell, the similarity could be coincidence. Though I realize this may be unlikely, it is a possibility. Most likely, some indiviudal artist at Apple made a mistake. But neither reason really matters.

          The point is, whatever the reason behind the derivative work, Apple took responsibility and paid. This is far more honest than what Google, Samsung, Motorola, HTC and the other Android leeches have done.

          Google already has officially acknowledged that Samsung went too far in copying Apple designs (based on business e-mails to Samsung admitted as evidence), but still is refusing to acknowledge its own culpability and pay licensing fees or even negotiate. Instead, Google is fostering a generation of dishonest developers. I have zero repect for Google, or any Android developer.

          Android is a bad joke on consumers, conceived only to collect private data for advertising purposes. I’ll never buy one of these intellectually bankrupt products. Here’s hoping all Android developers go broke in the process.

          Oh, and boycott all Samsung consumer products.

    3. What the F are you talking about, Sdfg? Whether or not Apple knew the clock design was copyrighted when they used it, they ended up coming to an agreement to pay for use of the design, without involving the courts, and it only took two weeks. I don’t see any hypocrisy here. Hypocrisy would be if Apple insisted it didn’t owe the Swiss company anything and that it should be able to use the clock design anyway. That didn’t happen here.

      1. What the F are you talking about? You see how emotional you get over this. It’s because you’re a fanboy and Apple can do no wrong. First stage: denial. Which is what you’re in.

        Apple copied the design. It’s an iconic design that’s well-known in the design community. They got caught. If you actually read the particulars of the case you’d know that the Swiss company was not interested in litigating and not that upset at Apple because they like Apple and Apple’s products. They were more flattered than mad but still wanted recognition that it is there design that they did decades ago and Apple copied it. They could have been very nasty and sued Apple in court for damages, not wanting or willing to reach an agreement outside of court.

        You should also look at how Apple copied Braun and Dieter Rams with the iPod design as well as the iMac design.

        1. Two things, Sdfg.

          First, your argument loses most of its air when we see ‘there’ used instead of ‘their’. It is fairly clear that you want to be articulate, but these types of errors quickly and effectively undermine whatever you may be trying to argue.

          And more importantly, second; bringing up Dieter Rams. I have a feeling that this one you dug up on one of the Fandroid forums, as it is frequently tossed around in those circles when discussing the original iPod. To anyone with even most cursory knowledge of industrial design, it is clear that Rahm was an inspiration. And that is exactly the extent of influence Rahm had on Ive (Apple’s head of design). Apple’s industrial designs are their own, and a result of a rigorous application of Rahm’s 10 design principles (look them up if you’re interested).

          Rahm says:

          I have always regarded Apple products – and the kind words Jony Ive has said about me and my work – as a compliment. Without doubt there are few companies in the world that genuinely understand and practise the power of good design in their products and their businesses. (…) I am always fascinated when I see the latest Apple products. Apple has managed to achieve what I never achieved: using the power of their products to persuade people to queue to buy them.

          I am troubled by the devaluing of the word ‘design’. I find myself now being somewhat embarrassed to be called a designer. In fact I prefer the German term, Gestalt-Ingenieur. Apple and Vitsoe are relatively lone voices treating the discipline of design seriously in all corners of their businesses. They understand that design is not simply an adjective to place in front of a product’s name to somehow artificially enhance its value. Ever fewer people appear to understand that design is a serious profession; and for our future welfare we need more companies to take that profession seriously.

          If your design was stolen, would you speak in such a way about the thief?

        2. I always get angry when people concoct a pack of lies in order to misrepresent someone else’s actions and damage their reputations. In the case of Samsung, they were given a stolen operating system by the most dishonest and corrupt company on earth, then they set about copying every detail of Apple’s iPhone design. Their reaction to being caught it to deny, dissemble, bluster, and file frivolous countersuits for patent infringement on standards essential patents (which are dedicated for public use at a nominal set fee without negotiation).

          I hate liars and thieves.

        3. Sdfg: “They could have been very nasty and sued Apple in court for damages, not wanting or willing to reach an agreement outside of court.”

          And what would those damages be? Does SBB sell a product associated with their clock? Does Apple make a product that competes with SBB? Did Apple create any sort of brand confusion to deliberately take sales away from SBB? I can see the headlines now: “SBB sues Apple for patent infringement! Asks for damages of $14.73!

    4. Uhh, well, yes and no. As it turns out the Apple design was a virtual copy of the SBB clock face. The deal is though, Apple did not create the design they used. Apple contracted with a third party for clock face designs and chose this one. So, yes it’s a copy of the SBB design, but Apple’s error was in the contractor they hired, not in violating someone else’s work.

      You’d have known all this if you read the complete articles on the subject, instead just the headlines. But such is the case with critics of Apple, emotional responses to headlines, vs rational responses to facts.

  2. I rather think that the infringement was unintentional, and that once Apple realized it, they did a right thing by licensing it. (Another “right thing” would have been to rebuild the graphics of the Clock app and force it out to all the iOS 6 devices in an update, but I think they did the better of the two right things here.)

    1. I’m glad they licensed the Swiss clock face, it’s beautiful. I happen to like skeuomorphism (digital representations of real-world objects), and this is a perfect example of skeuomorphism done right.

      People should note, this Swiss design isn’t “the iOS 6 clock face”, this is specifically the iPad’s iOS 6 clock face. The iPhone 5’s clock face is entirely different.

  3. There is also the possibility that the designer(s) at Apple didn’t realize that it was trademarked. Many physical objects aren’t protected that way.
    Then, once it discovered that the clock was trademarked, Apple did the right thing, met with Swiss Federal Railways, and came to an agreement about a license.
    I’m assuming you’re able to see how dramatically different that is from what Samsung did: knowingly copied something they knew Apple had “patented the hell out of this” (Steve Jobs). They did that deliberately to confuse consumers. They then refused a license offer from Apple. When Apple sued, they pulled out every nasty trick in the book in their defense, including disobeying the judge’s deadlines during discover and much more.

    1. Come on stop making excuses for them. They copied the design EXACTLY TO A T. They have lawyers and knew what they were doing and took the risk.

      I agree with another poster this is embarassing and they should have designed their own clockface.

      1. It is not to a “t”…. Apple’s hands are smaller and thinner, minute markers are thinner and longer… BUT … It is a copy of the minimalist design to the point that a license was warranted .., but I have seen this design used on any number of cheap alarm clocks over the years… My opinion is this clock design was from by memory of the Apple designer and only when alerted to the fact of it’s similarity of the Swiss patent on the design was it realized there had been an infringement … Immediately a license was requested and granted … This happens EVERY day in the design world but because it is Apple it becomes a huge deal.

      2. Your obvious bias has blinded you to what is the most likely explanation.

        I was people would stop turning off their brains in order to blindly adhere to extremist ideologies. It’s tiresome.

    1. The Design is from 1944 and the desgin patents have expired.

      But the SBB has a registered trademark of the clockface, albeit only for a black and white one.

      So it is not certain, that the clockface ist protected anymore.

  4. Apple did the right thing. Leading by example. If only the scum at Google and SamDung were so honest and capable of competiting fairly with thier own innovations rather then blatant thievery.

  5. While Switzerland is not Lesotho (and I mean no disrespect to the fine southern African country), in the sense that it has fairly high visibility in the world community (hosting the UN and other international agencies in Geneva, and being the world’s most confidential banker), it is likely not exactly the top destination for the designers from northern California (it being 9 time zones and 17 hours of flight away). These designers have more likely seen the face of this clock emulated on many other devices, most commonly cheap Chinese-made wall clocks and wrist watches. This is beside the point anyway.

    When SBB said something, Apple immediately reacted the way Samsung should have (but didn’t). Willfully or accidentally, when you infringe on someone’s design (or patent), which Apple did plenty of times before (accidentally, as well as willfully, not necessarily knowingly), Apple quickly resolves the issue the right way.

    When iPhone came out, Linksys (owned by Cisco) owned the name and used it for their obscure little VoIP device. Apple likely knew and still went ahead. Eventually, Steve Jobs negotiated the transfer of ownership for an undisclosed sum.

    The point is, Apple has never bothered defending themselves, or protesting innocence, when it was obvious that someone else owns a design they’re using. As soon as the issue comes to light, Apple goes into settlement negotiations. We may argue how much good faith there ends up being in these negotiations. Steve Jobs was a well-known negotiator, and he was able to strong-arm even the most powerful industry leaders, so he likely used his skills to quickly and favourably settle any of these cases before any legal process took place. Nonetheless, the bottom line is that Apple never allowed themselves to be dragged into court over obvious silly little things such as this. Therein lies the fundamental difference between Apple and Samsung (and others who protest innocence in face of obvious blatant copying).

    1. Exactly. I’m in England, and I’ve seen many variations of this design on sale. I had no idea it was trademarked to Swiss Railways; why would I? I think what infringes is the fact that the second hand has a circle on the end, which, frankly, I think looks daft. If Apple had used the generic version with a second hand lacking the blob, I’m sure no-one would have given a toss. And Sdfg and Macfreek, get over yourselves, you sound like whiney little girls. Apple probably assumed that the design was in the public domain; see Gk.mac below.

  6. This case has nothing to do with Samsung:

    1) Apple was not taking away any market for SBB clocks. People weren’t buying iPads to use as SBB mechanical clock replacements.

    2) The SBB design is 68 year old. If you check the actual trademark registration by going to:

    and looking up trademark number 512830 you see that it EXPIRED on Sep 3, 2012 – that’s well before iOS 6 came out.

    What happened is that SBB probably applied for an extension on the trademark.

Reader Feedback

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.