Blogs and newspapers report with glee that Apple have paid out a sum not unadjacent to $20M for the right to use the Swiss Railway clock in their iOS 6 operating system.
The clock, modern version pictured, dates back to 1944 and so the oft-repeated question is - what on earth is left to enforce against Apple? And the answer, as so often, is our old friend copyright which in Switzerland apparently lasts a European-standard life-plus-70-years.
This nice, slightly minimalist clock - modern in its day but looking fairly ordinary now - was commissioned by the Swiss Railway, SBB, and designed by the late Hans Hilfiker, an employee. It is licensed, for watches at least, to Mondaine. It was found to be a copyright work at least in Switzerland, for example in Handelsgericht Aargau HOR.2006.3‚ sic! 2008, 707, 711 ff. «SBB Uhren lll» (discussed in German by Mathis Berger here). And SBB themselves appear to make it available as a widget on their website.
The licence was taken following complaints from SBB. Would Apple have willingly paid the same upfront? I wonder. They made the mistake of assuming that the clock had counted down on SBB's protection after nearly 70 years, whereas since Mr Hilfiker reputedly died in 1993, there is almost another half-century left, and it may have been cheaper to settle than to recall the product - a reminder that whilst copyright in works of applied art is unharmonised, there are dangers in a worldwide launch before taking local advice in all major markets.