Apple Loses Trademark Lawsuit Against Chinese Firm: Xintong Tiandi Can Sell Leather 'IPHONE' In China

Apple recently lost a trademark suit against a Chinese company, virtually losing the right to exclusively use the "IPHONE" brand in the country.

The legal action pitted the American OEM against Xintong Tiandi Technology (Beijing) Co. Ltd., a Chinese venture that crafts and merchandises handbags and other leather products under the "IPHONE" name.

The Beijing Municipal High People's Court refuted Apple's appeal of the trademark dispute on March 31, according to a report from Legal Daily (Chinese link - translated). The ruling concedes the local company full rights to use the globally renowned name on its leather purses, handbags and cellphone cases.

You may check out the full array of products that Xintong Tiandi offers, on its official website.

The company filed a patent to register the "IPHONE" brand as early as 2007. However, Apple had already trademarked the same name for electronics five years prior, in 2002.

In 2012, Apple addressed the issue with the Chinese trademark regulator and continued to pursue the legal matter in a lower Beijing court. State authorities did not agree with the OEM.

The Chinese trademark regulator stated in a 2013 ruling that Apple is unable to prove that "IPHONE" was a renown brand in the country before Xintong Tiandi registered it. In the state agency's opinion, Apple's interests will be unharmed.

The recent ruling of the Municipal High People's Court of Beijing backs the trademark agency's point of view. The court explains that iPhones first entered stores in mainland China in 2009, and takes no note of the small "I" in the smartphone's name.

Should you be fluent in Chinese, you may read Xintong Tiandi's statement on its official page. The leather products manufacturer sees in the court's ruling an example of "free market." The company notes that it plans to work closely with Apple for the benefit of consumers of both electronics and leather products.

China remains the world's most lucrative market for smartphones, in spite of registered results ranking lower than expected. In 2015, Apple ranked third in term of sales, after local companies Huawei and Xiaomi. More than 49 million iPhones found owners in the country, cutting Apple a 11.3 percent slice of the Chinese handset market.

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