Apple is renowned for being extremely protective of its intellectual property. In a bid to protect the brand, it registered the name ‘iPhone’ in China back in 2002 – even before many of its own engineers knew their employer was secretly developing the now famous device.
However, even Apple’s legal know-how could not outwit China’s notorious ‘trademark squatters.’
The Chinese government has now ruled that a company named Xintong Tiandi Technology is free to make purses, wallets and phone cases branded with the word “IPHONE” after rejecting Apple’s appeal to the trademark dispute.
Xintong Tiandi registered for the trademark in September 2007, which is a curious coincidence, given that 2007 was the same year Apple unveiled its mobile phone to the public.
Apple had registered the same name in China in October 2002, but because Xintong Tiandi makes leather goods and Apple makes computers, the Chinese trademark authority granted the rights to both. Apple began pursuing legal action against Xintong Tiandi in 2012 but the appeal, which has found in favour of the Chinese leather goods firm, effectively means Apple does not have sole ownership of the iPHONE brand.
BJ Chong, a Partner and Intellectual Property expert with Palmers said: “Apple appears to have lost this particular legal battle, based on the fact that China doesn’t feel that Xintong Tiandi’s products will harm the computer giant’s interests. The Chinese firm successfully argued that no one will mistakenly believe that the handbags are designed by Apple.
“It is also interesting to note that the slight difference of the lowercase “i” does not differentiate the two.
“The Apple brand was worth $124.2billion in 2014, according to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Xintong Tiandi’s audacious move to capitalise on this corporate success appears to have worked – in China at least.
“In a further bold act, the website for the leather products includes a page discussing the dispute’s resolution, with Xintong Tiandi cheekily suggesting it hopes to work together with Apple to leverage their shared name to the benefit of both companies. It will come as no surprise that Apple has yet to take the Chinese company up on their ‘generous’ offer.”
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