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Apple Inc.’s appropriation of an iconic clock design whose copyright and trademark are owned by the Swiss Federal Railway has reportedly cost the company $21 million. Swiss newspaper Tages-Anzeiger is reporting that the Cupertino-based technology giant paid 20 million Swiss francs ($21 million) to compensate the Swiss Federal Railway for using its famous clock without permission. That amount includes a license that will allow Apple to continue to use the design in the clock app that comes with the latest version of the iPad tablet. The deal was struck in October, but neither Apple nor the Swiss Federal Railway released financial details at the time. The dollar amount is inconsequential for cash-rich Apple, but the fact that it paid several million dollars to license the clock design goes a long way to counter the perception that the technology giant is a hypocrite. The case of the unlicensed clock occurred in September—shortly after Apple won $1 billion in a lawsuit against Samsung Electronics Co. in which it claimed the Korean company stole its intellectual property. After that verdict, Apple CEO Tim Cook wrote in a memo sent to corporate employees that he hoped the verdict sends a message that “stealing isn’t right.” The Swiss clock fiasco began right after Apple released its new iOS 6 operating system in September. The software included a clock for the iPad that looked almost identical to the clock created for the Swiss Railway in 1944. The clock, which over the years has become a symbol of Swiss precision and punctuality, was designed by Swiss engineer Hans Hilfiker and is still used in station clocks throughout Europe. The Swiss Federal Railway holds both copyright and trademark rights for the clock face, the company says. When news broke that Apple had failed to pay for a license to include the clock design in the iPad, the Swiss Federal Railway very politely made it known that it was not happy. “We were proud to see our iconic clock used by Apple, but we were surprised they did not contact us for permission,” Swiss Railway spokesperson Daniele Pallechi told CorpCounsel.com at the time. The railway said it had contacted Apple about its failure to obtain a license and was hoping it could reach resolve the issue quickly. It is perhaps not surprising that Apple, a company known for its high appreciation of clean, minimalist design, would pay big money to license the iconic clock, which is so distinctive in function and appearance it was included in an exhibit at The Museum of Modern Art in New York. But it’s also possible that despite the Swiss Federal Railway’s extreme politeness about the matter, and despite the fact that it never overtly threatened to sue Apple for infringing its intellectual property rights, the specter of litigation was there. The trademark is valid, and the railway could have demanded that Apple cease selling its iPads in Switzerland or remove the clock from iPads sold there. Either option would have proved costly to Apple—both in loss of revenue and reputation.

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