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Apple’s Trade Mark Battle in China

Napthens - June 13th 2016

A Beijing court has ruled against Apple Inc. in a trade mark battle that prevents the technology giants from selling certain leather accessories with the name ‘iPhone’ in China. This is due to there being an existing registered trade mark ‘IPHONE’ in relation to leather goods (Class 18), owned by small Chinese leather company Xintong Tiandi Technology.

Although Apple retains full rights to the use their trade mark ‘iPhone’, which was registered in China in 2002 in relation to computer related goods, they are prevented from using the mark in relation to leather accessories. In their legal battle with Xintong Tiandi, Apple wanted to stop Tiandi from using their mark ‘IPHONE’. The Beijing court, however, ruled that Apple failed to prove that their mark ‘iPhone’ was had sufficient goodwill attached to it in China before Tiandi’s registration in 2007, as iPhones did not go on sale in China until 2009.

Apple’s failure present an important lesson for businesses. It highlights the importance of protecting your brand at an early stage and by registering your trade marks early in relation to all relevant goods and services, you can:

  • protect your brand identity;
  • prevent third parties from jumping on the success of your business; and
  • stop yourself from getting drawn into legal arguments as to whether your business can use the mark.

It also highlights that being famous globally is not necessarily sufficient to prove goodwill in the mark and so it is also important to consider trade marking your brand in any countries where your business is planning to expand into.

If you would like more information regarding trade mark protection, please contact the Napthens’ Intellectual Property team, who offer a fixed fee trade mark registration service for UK and European Union trade mark applications.