Brazilian regulators have officially declared that Apple does not have exclusive rights to use the “iPhone” trademark in the country. 

After the decision was announced, the Cupertino-based company has lodged an appeal with the Brazilian regulators with the aim of over-ruling it. The latest ruling is the result of Brazilian company, Gradiente Eletronica, registering the iPhone name in 2000, seven years prior to the launch of the Apple-made handset.

IGB's IPHONE branded Android device (image credit: MacRumours)

The only iPhone for Brazil?

However, Apple can continue to sell iPhones in Brazil till its appeal is heard. But the decision means that Gradiente does have the option of suing Apple for exclusivity in South America's biggest market.

The Institute of Industrial Property (INPI) told the BBC that its decision was restricted to handsets alone, and that the Apple continues to have exclusive rights to use the iPhone brand name elsewhere including on clothing, merchandise, accessories, in software and even for promotional purposes. Earlier this month, sources leaked info that Apple would have to let go of the iconic brand name of what is arguably its most famous product.

The institute also said that Apple had argued that it should have been given full rights since Gradiente had not released a product using the disputed name until late last year.

The company is exhorting the INPI to cancel Gradiente's registration citing that the Brazilian electronics maker did not use the iPhone name for five years, between January 2008 and January 2013. Gradiente, which is headquartered in Manaus, has now launched its contentious iPhone Neo One, which runs Android ironically, for 599 reals (approx Rs 15,000).

Of course, this is not the first time that Apple has squared up against rivals over issues of brand name. The company had to grapple with Cisco Systems in early 2007 for the rights to the iPhone name in the US, a few months before the first model was released. Cisco had sued Apple for trademark infringement immediately after the iPhone was first unveiled at the annual Macworld conference in January 2007.  Then, in China, a company called Proview entered into dispute with Apple over the rights to the iPad trademark. The impasse threatened sales of the world’s most popular tablet in the world’s most populous country and was settled in July 2012 for $60 million.

Gradiente has been reportedly willing to sit with Apple regarding the terms of settlement over the use of the name.  “We’re open to a dialogue for anything, anytime,” chairman Eugenio Emilio Staub. “We’re not radicals”.

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