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Apple reportedly pays $21 million for using patented clock design

Apple iOS clock
The SBB design, in iOS (left) and licensed by watchmaker Mondaine (right).Apple / Mondaine

Apple has paid Swiss railway company SBB $21 million for the right to use an iconic clock face to which they own the patent, according to a Swiss newspaper. The railway had objected after iOS 6 debuted in September with a clock app that clearly borrowed their design.

The face, a simple and numberless design with a second-hand terminating in a red circle, was designed in 1944 by one of SBB's engineers, Hans Hilfiker, and is widely used today.

How the design, well-known in Europe, came to be used by Apple is unclear; it simply showed up in iOS 6, and the next day SBB complained publicly. They were flattered by Apple's choice to use their clock, the spokesman said, but all the same they had not licensed the design.

Apple quickly entered into official talks with SBB, and the two announced they had reached an agreement on Oct. 12. But the sum agreed upon was unknown until a report Saturday in Swiss newspaper the Tages-Anzeiger, cited the $21 million figure.

Neither SBB nor Apple has confirmed the number, and perhaps never will, as privacy is taken very seriously in money matters in Switzerland.

Devin Coldewey is a contributing writer for NBC News Digital. His personal website is