While Apple is reported to be in talks with China Unicom to offer the iPhone in China, where it hopes to get the device sold in that country within the next year or so; talks of a trademark dispute over the word “iPhone” could be a hurdle in selling the device.
The company, Hanwang Technology, owns the trademark “i-phone” – and that could make it illegal for Apple to sell the phone under that name.
However, Apple does have the trademark “iPhone”, which it filed in late 2002, but that trademark only covered the hardware and software on the phone, not the phone itself, according to China’s trademark office. Hanwang’s patent was filed two years later, and covers phone equipment, including handsets.
To sell the phone, according to a intellectual property law agency talking to ComputerWorld, Apple has to reach an agreement with Hanwang, or apply for the trademark given to Hanwang to be revoked, and that takes up to three to four years to process and that is unlikely to succeed.
Hanwang, however, has said that Apple has not contacted them about the trademark issue, nor has the trademark office in China contacted them of any action done by Apple. A spokesperson for the company has not said what were the company’s plans if Apple does sell the phone in the country.
Apple previously had to settle the name “iPhone” with Cisco Systems, after its subsidiary Linksys owned the name “iPhone” for their VoIP phones (despite not actually using it before 2005, when it just slapped a sticker on them), when the first iPhone came out in the United States. That matter was settled out of court, allowing both parties to use the name.
The iPhone is proven to be a popular phone in China, with many of them being smuggled into the country and unlocked. According to the consulting firm Ovum, there is an estimated one million iPhones in the country, mainly owned by the wealthy and urban Chinese.