When it comes to the term iPhone, it’s hard to imagine association with any company other than Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL). Reality, on the other hand, is far from it as a Chinese company, Xintong Tiandi Technology Ltd, sell handbags and other leather products branded “IPHONE.” It comes as no surprise that the tech giant took swift action against the Chinese company, appealing to the courts for further action. Apple’s efforts, however, were of no avail as the Beijing Municipal High People’s Court passed a ruling last week, siding with Xintong Tiandi Technology.
According to the state media Legal Daily report, on March 31, the Beijing Municipal High People’s Court ruled in favor of the Xintong Tiandi Technology in a trademark dispute set forth by Apple. The court’s final decision highlights that it makes no particular distinction between “Apple’s lower-case ‘i’ in the brand and Xintong’s uppercase ‘I,’ referring to both company’s brands as IPHONE.” The court also highlighted that Apple flagship product (the iPhone) first became available for sale in mainland China in 2009.
Following the court’s ruling, Xintong Tiandi took to its website to state that the decision highlights the existence of a “free market.” The company further adds: “We will also make full achievement of the ‘iphone’ trademark, and work together [with Apple] to benefit more iphone consumers!”
The final verdict thus allows the Chinese company to brand its leather products, which includes purses handbags, passport and cell-phone cases with the “IPHONE” label – a variety of which are already available on the company’s website, iphone.vc.It is interesting to note that the Chinese company first registered the “IPHONE” trademark in 2007 with respect to leather products, nearly half a decade after Apple had registered the same name in China for computer hardware and software.
Subsequently, in 2012, the American tech giant filed charges in a lower Beijing court, and to the Chinese trademark authority. Both parties have, however, ruled against the tech giant. In 2013, the Chinese trademark authority ruled that the American tech giant could not adequately prove that the “IPHONE” brand was well-known and thus widely recognizable in the region, prior to Xintong Tiandi’s registration in 2007. The latter’s actions would therefore not adversely impact Apple’s sales as “the general public will not link the trademark in dispute with Apple to harm its [Apple’s] interests.”
The latest ruling by the Beijing Municipal High People’s Court, thus reaffirms the Chinese trademark authority’s prior decision.
It should, however, be noted that this is not the first time that the tech giant lost a trademark dispute in China. Back in 2012, a court ruled that Apple must pay a Shenzhen tech company $60 million over the iPad name.
Given the historically volatile nature of operations and dealing in China and the particularly capricious relationship with authorities, coupled with the stagnating share movement, the company’s future in the region becomes more precarious.