Apple is facing a new legal challenge in Brazil, where its claim over the rights to use the “iPhone” brand is being challenged by a local electronics maker that produces its own handsets bearing the same name.
IGB Eletrônica SA, which goes by the brand name Gradiente, has recently began seling its own smartphone device bearing the very same trademark as Apple’s more famous model, the IPHONE Neo One, which is now available to buy in Brazil’s stores. Its launch comes less than a week after Apple’s new iPhone 5 finally hit the stores in Brazil.
What’s surprising is that the company appears to be doing so legally – it would appear that Gradiente actually owns the right to the ‘IPHONE’ branding, having applied for the trademark back in 2000, a whole six years before anyone in Cupertino came up with the name separately. All of a sudden, Apple has found itself in a bit of an awkward position.
And as if the fact that the “IPHONE” runs on the Android operating system isn’t enough, things might get even messier, with the Wall Street Journal reporting that Gradiente is threatening to take Apple to court over the naming rights, saying that it will take all necessary measures to “preserve its intellectual property rights.”
“The two brands can’t coexist in the market. It’s up to Apple to make a move,” Eugênio Staub, Gradient’s president, told the WSJ.
According to a statement by Gradiente, the company first filed its request to use the ‘IPHONE’ brand back in 2000, after realizing that the world of cellphones was set for a revolution with the convergence of data transmission and voice, and reception via the mobile web.
Perhaps not realizing this at the time, Apple applied to register its own “iPhone” trademark in 2006. Its application is still being considered, but it’s believed that Brazil’s National Institute of Industrial Property will eventually reject the application, says the WSJ.
It’s unlikely that consumers will be confused though, as the two devices can’t easily be mistaken for one another. While both devices are similarly sized and come in black and white colors with a touchscreen interface, the price difference alone will let consumers know exactly what they’re buying – with the iPhone selling at $1,207 and the IPHONE Neo One (pictured left) retailing at a cut price $288.
This isn’t the first time Apple has faced confusion over naming rights to its smartphone product. It had a similar experience in Mexico, where it found that another company had registered the trademark “iFone” more than four years before it attempted to register its own “iPhone” brand. Naturally Apple went ahead and started selling the iPhone in Mexico anyway, resulting in a lengthy, ongoing court battle that Apple ultimately looks like losing.