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Apple Loses Trade Mark Battle in China Over iPhone name

Written by Fozia Cheychi on 04 May 2016

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A Chinese court has ruled against Apple in an action against a small leather goods manufacturer- Xintong Tiandi over the use of iphone branding on its leather goods. The decision means Xintong Tiandi can continue selling the branded goods.

In 2007, Xintong Tiandi registered iphone as a trade mark for use on leather goods. The company has been producing iphone-branded wallets, handbags and phone cases since then.

Apple on the other hand has been using the ‘i’- prefix for a number of years on a variety of its goods including iPhone, iPad and iPod. The company has spent vast amounts of money on its marketing. The iconic iPhone was first produced in 2007, and was announced in the US in January of that year, shipping of it commenced in June 2007. In China, the iPhone was not officially sold until 2009- two years after the sales commenced in US.

Apple initially took Xintong TIandi to China’s trademark commission in 2012, and later commenced formal legal action. The company lost its initial case the following year. The 2013 ruling reads in part “the general public will not link the trademark in dispute with Apple to harm its [Apple’s] interests.”

Apple then appealed the earlier decision and on appeal Beijing municipal higher people’s court ruled that Apple had failed to prove that the iPhone brand was “familiar” to the public and widely known” in China prior to XIntong Tiandi registering it. The court ruled that Xintong Tiandi had not infringed China’s trademark law.

Xintong Tiandi stated: “The ‘iphone’ brand can blossom widely outside Apple. We will take the ‘iphone’ marquee to its pinnacle, and together bring more benefit to the community of ‘iphone’ consumers!”

Apple was not immediately available for comment. 

The enforcement of Intellectual Property rights in china has long been an issue and the basis of much discourse. The issue for Western companies surrounding the protection of their intellectual property rights in China is a serious concern in a country where counterfeiting is rife.

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