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Report: Chinese 'iPhone' trademark was bought from Russian firm
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MacNN Staff
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May 19, 2016, 12:59 PM
A lawyer for the Chinese company that won a court case against Apple over the trademark name "iPhone" has now admitted that the trademark it holds was bought from a Russian company in 2011 rather than registered by the firm itself, a fact that might help Apple ultimately prevail in its quest to re-secure the exclusive use the "iPhone" brand name in China. In the court case, Xinton Tiandi Technology asserted its right to use the word "IPHONE" in all caps for its line of leather products.

The Beijing Higher People's Court ruled that Xintong had produced an application for use of the term "IPHONE" for its products in September of 2007, just after the original Apple iPhone debuted in North America. Apple had applied for a trademark on the name back in 2002 -- five years before the iPhone first appeared -- but it was not approved until 2013, and even then only in the limited range of "electrical and scientific apparatus." Thus, the court ruled that Xintong could also use the name it applied for, but only for "imitation leather, leather, wallets, purses, leather thread, leather passport wallets, leather key cases, leather straps and leather trimmings for furniture."

IPHONE leather passport holders from Xintong
IPHONE leather passport holders from Xintong

Apple has said it will appeal the case to the Supreme People's Court, and noted that it has fought similar cases against Xintong before. The company has, according to a source speaking to the South China Post, "succeeded in opposing and cancelling other marks, including 'IPHONE', 'iphone shop' and 'ipad' marks, sought by [Xintong] in other trademark categories." The new revelations that Xintong itself did not own the trademark until 2011, the year it was founded, may help Apple's appeal.

It could, however, be argued that despite Xintong itself not having filed for the trademark name in 2007, the application from then is still valid -- and that the iPhone name was not "renowned" in China at the time, only coming to the country in 2009. Though it seems clear that the original application filer from 2007 simply anticipated that Apple's iPhone would eventually come to China, the fact that the name is used for a class of products Apple largely does not produce (it does offer a leather Smart Cover) may still allow for the current ruling to stand.
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May 19, 2016, 03:00 PM
I suspect this decision, even if it's reversed, is part of a growing trend in China to favor domestic companies over foreign ones. Adobe and Google have grown so ticked off, they've curtailed activities there. Tim Cook's recent visit to China to mend fences indicates that Apple is facing similar problems with this one-party dictatorship. In the end, I suspect Europe and the U.S. will have to adopt tit-for-tat policies with China, only giving trade concessions in exchange for concessions.
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May 19, 2016, 05:06 PM
India is fighting hard for a domestic Apple manufacturing facility. Foxconn is reportedly investing millions in an Indian facility.

A shift from China of iPhone production, that exceeds Indian consumption, would be a serious tit for tat.

Even in dictatorships, protectionist policies that have undesirable consequences are eliminated.

I can't imagine employees producing leather goods earn as much as employees producing Apple goods. Nor do I believe that Xinton employs as many as Foxconn. A reduction in employment of 50,000 employees at Foxconn would be far more damaging to the Chinese economy than the loss of 10,000 (?) jobs at Xinton.
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May 20, 2016, 07:42 PM
@Inklinkg: Just to note, China is no longer a dictatorship, it's a one-party authoritarian state. Neither Premier Li Keqiang nor President Xi Jinping have true autocratic powers. It certainly has features of a totalitarian state, but even then doesn't really qualify.

Not saying it's a *good* form of government, but worth being clear on what kind of government China has now.

The fact that it's not a true dictatorship or totalitarian regime is reflected in the fact that they've basically painted themselves into a capitalist corner with the last 20 or so years of experimentation with private industry; the resulting lifestyle and wealthy class that resulted has basically made it impossible for them to walk that back significantly without the risk of inciting a revolution.

It'll be interesting to see how this new attempt to move some of that capitalist infrastructure back to Chinese ownership works out; if they push too hard, they risk damaging the economy severely and the social unrest that could result from that.
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