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Apple loses appeal of 'iPhone' trademark ruling in China

To prove trademark infringement, the allegedly aggrieved party must prove, among other things, that the defendant’s use of the trademarked material is likely to cause confusion among average consumers. In other words, if a consumer would see the plaintiff’s name or logo on a piece of the defendant’s merchandise and believe the item came from the plaintiff.

It may seem to readers that the iPhone is so well-known that Apple’s trademark on the name would be iron-clad. But a court in China has ruled that the people of that country were not well aware of Apple’s line of smartphones until relatively recently.

The court has ruled that a company called Xintong Tiandi Technology Co., Ltd. owns the trademark on the “IPHONE” name there. The company produces leather products, including passport covers, handbags -- and phone cases, Forbes reports.

Xintong Tiandi obtained a trademark on “IPHONE” in 2007, two years before Apple began selling iPhones in China. Apple later sued, but in 2013 a Chinese court sided with Xintong Tiandi. “The general public will not link the trademark in dispute with Apple to harm its interests,” the court ruled then. The latest ruling upholds that lower court decision.

Apple has had a great deal of trouble protecting its trademarks in China. In 2012, a court ordered the company to pay a Chinese tech firm $60 million for the right to use the name “iPad” in China.

International intellectual property law can be very complex, because you may be dealing with at least two sets of laws that can vary widely. Of course, protecting your IP is just as important when the dispute is with a party down the street. Either way, you will need an experienced IP attorney on your side.

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