A podcast discussing news of note in iOS Development, Apple and the like.

#173: Roses by Other Names

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I’m trying a new format for show notes. This is half blog post, half podcast. Let me know what you think.

I’m not going to wade into the specifics of the Paper-on-Paper-on-Paper-on-Paper battle but I thought it was an interesting topic to address more generally. Naming is an important part of creating, launching and marketing a product. Along with your icon it is probably the single most significant part of your branding efforts. It is what people will search for and how they will tell others about your app. Here are some of the things I’ve learned from my tenure in the App Store.

Remember folks, I’m not a lawyer. Don’t base your legal or branding choices solely on the recommendation of a 15 minute podcast.

Considerations when choosing a name

There are two general groups that your app’s name can fall into:

  • A unique, contrived or invented word. Some examples of this category are Groupon, YouTube, Snapchat and Pinterest. The advantage of these is that they are typically easier to defend and protect. Because you made up a word it is hard for people to claim collisions are coincidence.
  • A more generic term. Some examples of this category are Audiobooks, Paper, Flashlight and Camera. The advantage of these is that they are easily recognizable and have built in search optimization. However, they are much trickier to defend and lay claim to.

Some App Store Realities

  • Name “squatting” is a reality of the Store. While Apple has a variety of policies in place to attempt to mitigate this it is easy for someone to lay claim to a name in the Store without really using it to sell an actual product.
  • As of today there have been 1,509,669 apps approved in the life of the App Store. With that large of a pool it is very likely that all the basic, short names have already been used for most common nouns and verbs (The Oxford English Dictionary only has around 250,000 words for comparison).
  • Name duplication is possible through a variety of means. I used to think that once a name was “claimed” it was no longer possible for another app to have the exact same name. This isn’t true. Whether by guile or glitch I’ve seen many instances where a name has been duplicated exactly.
  • Beyond direct duplication you can also indirectly duplicate an app by adding text or characters to the end of the name. Just do a search for “Flashlight” in the App Store to see what this looks like. This is often also done to improve search ranking in the Store.
  • Search optimization is an important part of getting your app in front of your customers. Your app’s name (whether just a name or name-plus-tagline) and keywords are the only texts used in search so what you choose for this is very important. This is another area where being more generic can be useful. Naming your app Camera+, Camera Awesome, or Camera Plus gives you immediate advantage for people going to the store and searching for “camera” apps.

Higher Powers

  • Trademarks are the legal means of protecting your name and preventing customer confusion. Not everything can be trademarked, nor does getting a trademark solve all your problems.
  • As with most things involving lawyers it is only partially a question of who is “right” in a trademark dispute. It is who can fight the longest, best fight and convince the highest power to take their side. I know of many stories of “little guys” getting trampled by someone who had the budget mount legal battles that the rightful owner just couldn’t sustain.
  • Apple generally seems to have a two tier approach to disputes. When it is a clear violation of an valid, simple trademark they are very quick to act. When things start to get more gray and complicated they step back and let the parties work it out between themselves. I think this approach makes a lot of sense and while it can be frustrating if you are fighting the later case its really the most reasonable approach for them to take.

General recommendations

The easiest way to avoid his whole thing is to try and name your apps in as unique a manner as possible. Invent a name and then market around that. You can incorporate parts of the generic terms to make it more recognizable (e.g. Fantastical). You loose the native search optimization of this but can easily make up for that using your keywords.

Trademark your name and hope for the best, realizing that whatever you do you may need to get a lawyer involved at some point.