In a cruel twist of irony, right around the time of World Intellectual Property Day, foreign companies have been having a difficult time with securing their intellectual property rights in China. While Under Armour is preparing to go after Uncle Martian, Apple has already lost its own battle against a tech company that sells its products under the trademark “IPHONE.”
While Apple applied to trademark “IPHONE” back in 2002, it was only approved in 2013, under Class 9: Electrical and Scientific Apparatus.
Meanwhile, in 2007, Beijing-based tech company Xintong Tiandi Technology also applied to trademark “IPHONE.” This request was approved in 2010, but under Class 18: Leather Goods.
Apple has objected to the decision and to Xintong Tiandi’s use of its trademark, arguing that the Chinese company is in violation of China’s 2001 Trademark Law, considering the fact that the first Apple iPhone was launched in 2007, although they did not begin selling in China until 2009.
However, the Trademark Office reviewed the decision and concluded that Xintong’s request to trademark “IPHONE” under Class 18 was legitimate because at the time the request was made the “IPHONE” brand was not prominent. Apple appealed that decision to the State Administration for Industry and Trademark Review and Adjudication Board, which also ruled against Apple in 2013.
Yet, Apple continued to fight for their brand and appealed for a third time to the Beijing Intermediate Court. People often say that third time is the charm, but unfortunately, not for Apple. The verdict was yet again against them as the court believed that much of the evidence provided came from after September 29th, 2007, which is when Xintong Tiandi applied for the trademark, a few months after the first iPhones went on the market on June 29th, 2007.
Well, how about the fourth time? Apple appealed again, this time to the Beijing Higher Court. They needed to prove that “IPHONE” was a well-known brand back in 2007. For a final time, they were not successful, the court ruled last month that Apple had no proper legal evidence, giving Xintong Tiandi the legal right to use “IPHONE” on their leather products, NetEase reports.
You are now free to buy “IPHONE” bags and cases of the “Highest Quality”; they are the perfect place to keep your iPhone:
Apple has recently been having a rough go of it: from this unsuccessful lawsuit, to China blocking iTunes Movies and iBooks without explanation, to a troubling drop in iPhone sales. While Apple has tried at times to accommodate the Chinese government, Beijing has been more reluctant to reciprocate. It may just be time for Tim Cook to hire a new China MD, or take a jog around Tiananmen.
Meanwhile, the end of this lawsuit sets another troubling precedent for future companies fighting for their intellectual property in China. Even Michael Jordan has failed thus far, with a Beijing court dismissing his claim last year that the Chinese sportswear company Qiaodan was infringing on his trademark.
Qiaodan (乔丹) is the transliteration of the NBA star’s surname in Chinese. The company’s products also incorporate the number 23 and a silhouette of a basketball player which bears more than a passing resemblance to the iconic “Jumpman” logo used by Nike in its Air Jordan line.
However, last August, the court ruled that “Jordan” is a common surname used by Americans and the logo was in the shape of a person with no facial features, making it “hard” for consumers to identify it as Jordan.
This climate seems to have caused some companies to go a bit mad, with Gucci announcing its intention last month to hunt down knockoffs in China, even right to the grave.
By Sarah Lin
[Images via NetEase / Xintong Tiandi]