Apple Loses Trademark Case, No Longer Has Exclusive Rights To The ‘iPhone’ Name In China

Apple Inc. no longer has exclusive rights to the name “iPhone” in China after losing a trademark case against a local company, Chinese state media reported on Wednesday.

A Beijing court rejected Apple’s trademark dispute case brought against Xintong Tiandi, a small Chinese maker of “IPHONE” branded leather goods, mostly wallets, handbags, and phone cases. The Beijing Municipal High People’s Court ruled against the California-based tech giant, saying that Xintong Tiandi can continue to use the brand “IPHONE” on its leather goods, according to the Legal Daily, the official newspaper of China’s Justice Ministry.

“Apple is disappointed the Beijing Higher People’s Court chose to allow Xintong to use the iPhone mark for leather goods when we have prevailed in several other cases against Xintong,” a spokesman for the tech giant said to the BBC. “We intend to request a retrial with the Supreme People’s Court and will continue to vigorously protect our trademark rights. We work hard to make the best products in the world and want to ensure our customers’ experience is not compromised by companies who try to profit from using our brand.”

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the ruling was largely because Xintong Tiandi trademarked “IPHONE” for its leather products in 2007, and has been producing them ever since, whereas Apple applied for the iPhone trademark for computer and software goods in 2002 but was not approved until 2013.

“The court said Apple failed to prove iPhone was a ‘famous brand’ in China before the local company applied for a trademark in 2007, an official legal newspaper reported. Such status under Chinese law might limit its use on other products.”

Apple’s famous smartphones went on sale in China in 2009, two years after Xintong Tiandi reportedly applied to use the name. The case was also taken to the Chinese trademark authority and a lower Beijing court in 2012, both of which also ruled against Apple. According the ruling by the Chinese trademark authority, which was cited by the Legal Daily article, the office decided that because Apple could not prove it was a well-known brand before Xintong Tiandi filed its trademark application in 2007, continued use of the name would not harm Apple’s interests.

The Chinese ruling reportedly made no distinction between Apple’s signature lowercase “i” in the brand “iPhone,” as opposed to Xintong’s capitalized “I” in “IPHONE,” referring to both brands using the all-caps name.

Apple is now the world’s largest technology company, and its second-biggest market after the United States is China, though sales in China for the first quarter of 2016 plunged 26 percent. Quartz also reported Apple’s recent woes in China.

“It’s not the first time Apple has lost in a trademark dispute in China. In 2012, a court ruled Apple should pay $60 million to a Shenzhen tech firm to end a dispute over the iPad name. But as scrutiny over Apple’s relationship with Chinese authorities rises, and the company’s share price slides, it could to raise more questions about Apple’s future in China.”

In addition, the report of the court ruling came after news that Apple’s iTunes and iBooks services became unavailable in China two weeks ago as Chinese authorities passed a law that all content shown in China must be stored on servers located on the Chinese mainland. The company said last month they hope these services will resume operations soon.

Intellectual property rights, such as disputes over brand names, have long been a point of contention between Western countries and China, which is the world’s leading producer of counterfeit goods, a $461 billion industry, as Inquisitr previously reported.

Manufacturer Xintong Tiandi’s official website has a large assortment of the “IPHONE” brand leather goods.

[Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images]