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Legal Technology: Apple Allowed to Use Swiss Railway Clock Design in Deal with SBB

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October 12, 2012

Apple Allowed to Use Swiss Railway Clock Design in Deal with SBB

By Colleen Lynch, TMCnet Contributor

Apple (News - Alert) may have a reputation these days as being staunchly protective of their own designs, and quick to sue others on copyright issues, but the coin flips both ways. The company recently struck a deal with Swiss railway operator SBB, to allow Apple to use their trademark station clock design on coming iPhones and iPads.

It is clear Apple does not want to find itself on the other end of the matter, so the company is equally dedicated to ensuring their designs are not copying off of something else, as they are to accuse copiers of their products. Samsung (News - Alert), anyone? 

Image via Shutterstock

Innovative ideas abound, however, so when Apple does want to copy, they want it to be all above board, and in this case it most certainly is.

“For the use of the clockface on certain Apple devices such as iPads and iPhones, the parties have negotiated an arrangement that enables Apple to use the SBB station clock under a license agreement,” SBB announced today.

SBB holds the trademark for a clock designed by Zurich-born engineer Hans Hilfiker in 1944. Last month, the company hinted it might challenge Apple’s use of the clock, which appeared on a new operating system for the iPad.

Immediately aware, Apple might be putting its foot in its mouth, the company rushed to clear the legal pathways to use the clock.

The cost of the licensing fee is currently confidential, and will reportedly remain so. No further details have come out on the deal at this time.

The deal begs the question, however--why not use a different clock?

SBB was quick to answer that, saying “It is a design icon that has obviously lost none of its appeal in the digital age. Even now, it symbolizes the innovation and reliability that are key qualities attributed to both SBB and Switzerland as a whole.”

Hilfiker’s design is minimalist, and was aimed to help travelers check the time at a distance while hurrying to catch trains. The clock’s second red hand is in the shape of a railway guard’s signaling disc, which Hilfiker added to the original design in 1953, to as he said “enable trains to depart punctually.”

The design has since extended far beyond its original use, and has been included in both the Museum of Modern Art in New York, as well as the Design Museum in London, to showcase outstanding 20th-century design.

Edited by Brooke Neuman



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