China Court Likes Facebook and Dislikes Apple.

You win some, you lose some!! China passed two judgments last week, with respect to trademark involving two of the most famous brands- “iPhone” and “Facebook”. The judgments are very surprising because as we all know that Facebook though blocked in China, was allowed the trademark protection. However, iPhone despite being popular and sold in China lost the trademark battle.

The iPhone imbroglio:

Xintong Tiandi, a Chinese manufacturer of luxury leather goods has been selling handbags, mobile phone cases and other leather goods branded with the name “IPHONE”, which is similar to Apple’s iPhone trademark. Xintong Tiandi had applied for trademark registration of the mark-“IPHONE” for leather products in China in 2007 and secured registration in 2010. Although, Apple started selling iPhones in China in 2009, it filed a trademark application for the brand “iPhone” for electronic goods as early as 2002, but was able to secure registration only in 2013.

Apple has been fighting for its exclusive right over the trademark “iPhone” without success. As per the procedure, Apple had first sought relief through the Chinese trademark authority in 2012, and then later filed a suit in a lower court of the Country. After receiving non favorable judgments from both the forums, Apple appealed to the higher court.

The higher Court while ruling against Apple stated that the company could not prove to be a well-known brand in China before Xintong Tiandi filed its trademark application in 2007 and the general public would not confuse between the trademarks in dispute as the trademarks deals with different goods, thereby causing no harm to harm Apple’s interests. Thus, Apple retains the trade mark rights over the computer software and hardware goods, and Xintong Tiandi can continue to manufacture and sell its leather goods under the brand name “IPHONE” . The Company has decided to appeal the judgment before the Supreme People’s Court in China.

The Facebook Favor:

If you had a thing to drink Facebook, then a company in China was making it true. But, now it’s no longer possible. Zhongshan Pearl River Beverages, a company in China sought registration for the trademark “Facebook” in 2011 for food, beverages and snacks. Despite objections from Facebook Inc, the Chinese company was granted approval to use the brand by the trademark office in 2014. The Chinese company used the brand name to produce flavored milk drinks and porridge; food including potato chips and canned vegetables. Under Chinese law, a multinational with a globally recognized brand must prove that its trademark is also well known within China in order to protect its well known trademark.

The Court while passing the judgment in favor of Facebook stated that “the firm had violated moral principles with obvious intention to duplicate and copy from another high-profile trademark. It was an obvious act of copying and harmed fair market competition.”

Facebook had previously objected to China’s Trademark Review and Adjudication Board twice but was unsuccessful, but the Court helped the US social networking company win this time. The country’s trademark regulator may still change the decision however.

China’s approach to the enforcement of intellectual property seems confusing at this moment especially while looking at the two very conflicting judgments passed in the last week. Should we say lady luck played her role in the conflicting judgments for both the major brands more than the Court’s analysis??

Authored by Sambhabi Patnaik

References: Apple, Facebook

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