It seems Apple is having a tough time retaining the iconic iPhone name trademark in several countries. After the much-talked-about tussle with Brazil’s Gradiente Electonics over the name iPhone, which ended in a judgement against Apple, the company has suffered yet another setback. This time the dispute is based in Mexico, where the country’s Supreme Court has ruled against Apple in a case against a local tech company over the “iFone” name in the country.
The decision, which was reported by Wall Street Journal (paywall), is for a case that began way back in 2009, when Apple tried to register the “iPhone” trademark in Mexico. At the time, it was told by the Mexican Industrial Property Institute that the name was already being used by a telecommunications service called iFone.
Will Apple be forced to change the name of the iPhone in Mexico?
In an attempt to win back the trademark, Apple filed an appeal and argued that iFone was not making adequate use of the moniker. That is a major requirement for any company to prevent the naming rights they hold from expiring. The court handling the case found that Apple’s adversary, iFone was making good use of the name since registering for it in 2003. That’s a good four years before the first ever Apple iPhone was launched and much before it saw the light of day in Mexico.
This week’s ruling from the Supreme Court shot down Apple's attempt to appeal that earlier decision. Ironically for Apple, with the ruling now having been passed, iFone is free to seek compensation for damages associated with the company’s use of “iPhone” on three Mexican cellular providers. The amount of damages that it intends to claim has not yet been announced, but iFone's counsellor Eduardo Gallastegui said Mexican law allows for compensation of at least 40 percent of sales made by rights violations. “Our main interest is to defend our brand,” he said. “Apple started the controversy. Their first step was to file a lawsuit. They didn't previously approach the company.“
The Mexican court ruling follows the Cueprtino company’s earlier loss of exclusive rights to the iPhone name in Brazil last month. WSJ notes that this particular Mexican affair is different from the Brazil situation as there is no physical product involved. Apple is currently in talks with Gradiente to resolve the issue and enter into some kind of settlement deal with the company that, as it turns out, used the iPhone name for a smartphone running rival OS, Android.
Apple also faces a separate legal challenge in Brazil, where it has to defend against the claim that its fourth-generation iPad, released mere months after the third-generation model, is an example of planned obsolescence. The lawsuit alleges that consumers thought they were buying the most high-end iPad, when in fact it was made obsolete thanks to the iPad 4. If it loses the lawsuit, Apple could be required to compensate all Brazilian customers who bought the third-generation iPad.
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