A manufacturer of mobile phone accessories has won a trademark battle with Apple to use the name iPhone for its products in China. The decision was handed down by the Beijing Municipal High People’s Court and comes after heavy falls in the sales of iPhones in China.
Xintong Tiandi, which manufactures leather cases and other products for the Chinese market, trademarked the name ‘iPhone’ in 2010, the same year that the device was released by Apple for Chinese consumers. Apple was granted a trademark for the name as it applied to electronic goods in 2013, despite having applied as early as 2002. The court found that Apple could not prove that ‘iPhone’ was a famous brand in China before Xintong Tiandi applied for the trademark, despite the worldwide renown with which the iPhone has long been held in other major markets. The result means that ownership of the iPhone trademark rests with the Chinese company, which can continue to use the iPhone brand on its products. Xintong’s trademark applies only to specified leather and imitation leather products sold in China.
The decision effectively ends the exclusive rights of Apple to use the iPhone brand in China and will be appealed by Apple as part of a long running battle with Chinese companies in what has become Apple’s second largest market. The case shows the importance of taking all necessary steps to register trademarks and adopting a proactive approach to the administration and protection of IP.