Swiss railway weighs challenge to Apple over trademark clock

ZURICH Fri Sep 21, 2012 11:34am EDT

1 of 3. A couple stands in front of a station clock as they check the departure times of trains at the central railway station in Zurich September 21, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Arnd Wiegmann

ZURICH (Reuters) - Swiss railway operator SBB and a Swiss watchmaker are considering challenging Apple over the striking similarity between the country's trademark station clocks and the clock on a new operating system for the iPad.

"We now have to agree on the legal framework between SBB and Apple," SBB spokesman Reto Kormann said, adding that Swiss railways still held the trademark for the emblematic clock designed by Zurich-born engineer Hans Hilfiker in 1944.

"SBB isn't hurt, but proud that his icon of watch design is being used by a globally active and successful business."

Mondaine Group, the company that has held the license since 1986 to make clocks and wristwatches for consumers based on the 20th-century design classic, said it would also challenge Apple.

"The app is pretty much identical to our Mondaine watch," Andre Bernheim, the company's co-owner, told Reuters. "Three companies together - Apple, SBB and Mondaine - can together achieve something positive. We'll see how this all ends up."

An Apple spokesman was not immediately available to comment.

The minimalist clock, which is emblematic of Switzerland's tradition of punctuality, was designed for the national rail service to help travelers to check the time at a distance as they hurried to catch their trains.

In 1953 Hilfiker added a red second hand, which pauses briefly at the top of each minute "to enable trains to depart punctually", as he put it.

The second hand with a circle at its end is based on the device a station manager on the platform would wave for a train's departure, and SBB holds the rights to the design.

"Yet again we see that something that looks simple isn't simple," Bernheim.

The redesigned clock app is a new feature on Apple's iPad computer with the iOS 6 mobile operating system. It uses black dashes for numbers and a red second hand with a circle at the end, just like the Swiss railway clock, a Reuters employee visiting an Apple store observed.

The Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Design Museum in London have both included Hilfiker's clock among their examples of outstanding 20th-century design.

Switzerland's tradition of watchmaking stretches back hundreds of years and includes famous luxury watchmakers such as Patek Philippe, Rolex and Omega.

(Reporting by Catherine Bosley; Editing by David Goodman)

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Comments (3)
Overcast451 wrote:
Good going Apple, now EVERYONE wants to sue you.

This whole concept of ‘ownership’ in this legal morass of copyright, trademarks, and patents will eventually kill innovation.

Sep 21, 2012 10:25am EDT  --  Report as abuse
deasys wrote:
Innovation is motivated, not killed, by legal sanctions against blatant copying.

Apple should have obtained clearances before using this design in its Clock app.

Sep 21, 2012 1:32pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
SilentBoy741 wrote:
Awesome! Do it, SBB, do it! Get your 12 billion dollars from Apple for copying the blatently obvious and claiming it as their original product. Apple has set the legal precedent for this absurdity, let’s see how they like it when they’re the one who has to write the check.

Sep 21, 2012 1:43pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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