What's in a name? Aussie 'HealthKit' firm unhappy with Apple

But anyone who thinks this is the start of a serious legal fight is simply wrong

An Australian company has made a big deal this week of taking umbridge with Apple's use of the name HealthKit. That company, whose chief product is an app and service that allows users to aggregate health data from a variety of sources and send that data to their doctors, is named HealthKit.

It's obvious why the company's co-founder, Alison Hardacre, has -- intentionally or not -- started a media firestorm about Apple's use of the name. Apple's HealthKit, unveiled during the company's Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) keynote on Monday, is based on what appears to be the same concept and uses the same name.

Stories about the brouhaha have spread throughout the tech and mainstream media. Most of them include comments from Hardacre originally published in Australia's Business Spectator, as well as a statement that she's considering legal action against Apple.

"I can't understand why (Apple) would do this," she said. "I hope the reason is that they swapped the name at the last minute. Or maybe they think we are too small. It's flattering but I am shocked that they still haven't tried to get in touch with us."

What she -- and apparently a number of media outlets -- fail to realize is that Apple's HealthKit isn't an app (or any other type of product) or even a service that the company is selling to end users. It is nothing more than a series of APIs that iOS 8 app developers can use to build integration between their apps and Apple's Health app. It is not a product that competes with her company either directly or indirectly.

Put another way, the app/product that Apple is offering to consumers is called Health, not HealthKit. And the apps developers create that integrate with Apple's Health app will not be called HealthKit.

Apple likely hasn't contacted her because it isn't creating a product -- competing or otherwise -- that uses her company's name.

The derivation of the term HealthKit is actually nothing more than Apple's nomenclature for frameworks -- collections of APIs related to a specific Apple app or technology that it offers developers. Two other notable examples from Monday's keynote are HomeKit, a collection of home automation APIs, and CloudKit, a collection of APIs designed for cloud-based apps. Dig around Apple's developer site (or sites for Apple developers) and you'll find several other examples - WebKit, SpriteKit, UIKit, StoreKit, SceneKit, and TextKit (which also shares a name with an unrelated product/company: Textkit).

If Apple's keynote hadn't become the media event it is every year, complete with live video stream, it's possible that the name HealthKit might not have garnered the attention it has. As Mac Observer's John Martellaro explained this week, WWDC and its keynote are developer events first and foremost. It's easy for many people to forget that and confuse the event with an Apple product release.

It's understandable that Hardacre and her company are put out by Apple's actions, particularly with the media coverage of the name. And it's quite possible that Apple might offer to negotiate use of it. Apple has done that when it's stepped on trademarks in the past -- including iPhone/Iphone. But the reality is that Apple would have a pretty strong legal case (supported by its incredibly strong legal team) simply by asserting that its collection of APIs are not, of themselves, a product or public-facing. Apple isn't using them in a way that directly affects HealthKit's product or service and, as such, don't infringe on any trademarks.

Apple could even point out that Samsung's SAMI service, announced last week, is a direct competitor to HealthKit, whereas Apple's API framework isn't.

Realistically, a year from now, most iOS users may have forgotten the HealthKit name as a part of iOS 8 and simply refer to the Health app or the various apps that integrate with it using the HealthKit APIs. The situation may even turn out to be a benefit for HealthKit (the company) because Apple's use of the name has shined a worldwide spotlight on the company's name.

But a legal fight? Not this time.

Ryan Faas is a freelance writer and technology consultant specializing in Mac and multiplatform network issues. He has been a Computerworld columnist since 2003 and is a frequent contributor to CITEworld.com. Faas is also the author of iPhone for Work (Apress, 2009). You can find out more about him at RyanFaas.com and follow him on Twitter ( @ryanfaas).

Read more about app development in Computerworld's App Development Topic Center.

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