Apple sued over iPhone X ‘Animoji’ trademark

“Apple is facing a lawsuit for infringing on an existing Animoji trademark, reports The Recorder,” Juli Clover reports for MacRumors. “Animoji is the name Apple chose for the 3D animated emoji-style characters that will be available on the iPhone X. ”

“The lawsuit was filed on Thursday by law firm Susman Godfrey LLP on behalf of Enrique Bonansea, a U.S. citizen living in Japan who owns a company called Emonster k.k.,” Clover reports. “Bonansea says he came up with the name Animoji in 2014 and registered it with the United States Patent and Trademark Office in 2015.”

“Since 2014, Bonansea has been using the Animoji name for a messaging app available in the iOS App Store,” Clover reports. “The lawsuit alleges Apple was aware of the Animoji app and attempted to purchase the Animoji trademark ahead of the unveiling of the iPhone X.”

“Bonansea’s Animoji app has been downloaded more than 18,000 times, he says, and it continues to be available in the App Store,” Clover reports. “The app is designed to send animated texts to people.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: We assume Apple’s legal team vetted the use of “animoji” beforehand especially as a simple search of Apple’s own App Store for the word “animoji” returns a significant multitude apps using that keyword. Likely, Apple’s lawyers felt that purchasing the name was not a requirement for using it for Apple’s feature which uses the TrueDepth Camera system (also used for Face ID) face-scanning tech of iPhone X to generate animated, custom 3D emoji based on your own facial expressions – which Bonansea’s messaging app most certainly does not. Perhaps there is a case for trademark dilution, but we’re not sure if a mere 18,000 downloads sufficiently supports such a claim. You can’t really dilute something about which pretty much nobody has ever heard. Again, Apple’s legal team surely vetted the use of “animoji,” including the possibility of a trademark dilution claim, before using it for their feature.

Our gut reaction in that Bonansea should have sold Apple the trademark when he had the chance.

The lawsuit document (.pdf) is here.

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    1. Surely Apple searched and found his trademark and other public uses of the term ‘animoji’ before using it? If not, then Apple is worse off than I thought.

      Regardless, the same thing occurred to me, TxUser. If Enrique Bonansea legally filed the trademark and has used it in a retail product, then MDN’s Take seems inconsistent with its previous positions on IP rights and the defense of the individual over corporations and governments. Furthermore, the fact that Bonansea’s app has only been downloaded ~18K times is irrelevant, IMO.

      One fact that is highly relevant is that, according to MDN, “…a simple search of Apple’s own App Store for the word ‘animoji’ returns a significant multitude apps using that keyword.” If that is true and Enrique Bonanza has not attempted to defend his trademark since 2014, then that may provide some grounds for Apple’s defense.

      Too bad for Apple…animoji is actually a pretty cool name. It rolls off the tongue fairly well and is both descriptive and easily recognizable. If Apple really wants the trademark, perhaps Bonanza would like a million dollars or so? If not, call it Applemoji in official documentation. People will end up calling it animoji anyway and who really cares?

      1. “Enrique Bonanza has not attempted to defend his trademark since 2014, then that may provide some grounds for Apple’s defense.”
        “Defense” doesn’t even need to be mentioned. You have to not only register for a trademark BUT you have to defend religiously. If the person/company doesn’t defend it, they lose it.

        When you see a huge multinational going after “mom and pop shop” over a name, it’s not because they want to, they HAVE to in order to prevent other multinationals from siezing the opportunity. Sounds like to me Apple wanted to give him SOMETHING for his troubles and he didn’t bite.

        1. My actual statement began with the word “If,” Wrong Again. I do not have knowledge of the background of this case, so I did not want to assert a supposition as fact. I simply wanted to offer some food for thought – that the term “animoji” may have transitioned to the public domain through lack of defense by Bonansea over the past few years.

          I do not necessarily agree that huge multinationals are attacking “mom and pop shops” only because they have to do so. Some of them just want to squash any semblance of competition early and often, or take the good ideas away for free. My guess is that mom and pop shops get legally walked on far more often by the big guys than the reverse. They can be spent into bankruptcy by the contents of the petty cash box at Apple. Even the threat of a big name law firm is probably enough to cow most of them out of a sense of self-preservation.

          I am an Apple supporter and shareholder, but I do not weep for Apple’s legal woes. Sure, I would like to see the patent trolls tossed out f court. They are parasites on the economy and a boon to less principled lawyers. But lawsuits are going to happen to a company of Apple’s size. Given the resources that Apple can bring to bear in court, it should be winning the vast majority of its cases. If it stacks up a large number of wins then, perhaps, the vultures will get discouraged and seek easier prey.

    2. For once, I agree with you.

      The rights of the little guy, whether 18 million or 18 thousand or just 18 downloads, should in no way be trampled on by advance failed maneuvering tactics of a behemoth multi-national corporation like Apple.

      Shameful, and I support the little guy who passed on millions to preserve his artistic dignity. Fingers crossed he will prevail and make millions more while at the same time applying a nice stain to Apple’s veneer …

      1. It is nice to see your agreement. Perhaps you are opening up your mind a bit? 🙂

        The rights of the individual must be protected. Wealthy people and larger companies possess an inordinate amount of power over the political and legislative processes and the courts. You have undoubtedly observe how thoroughly companies have undermined consumer protections through “mandatory arbitration” with the choices of location and arbitrator at the discretion of the companies. Virtually every significant legal agreement has been undermined in one fashion of another. It is impossible to go through life as a peon without signing away most of your legal rights.

        People need to read the fine print and express their outrage.

  1. You can’t patent animoji but you can presumably copyright and trademark it. Fair use should allow animoji. The question is whether one can use Animoji. And is Apple’s use different enough by virtue of being dynamic as opposed to static.

  2. Apple trademarked the word “AppStore”. Google and Amazon soon followed with online sales of apps, and also named them Appstore. Apple sued and lost. As I remember, the name was said to be too generic to be protected.

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