Apple logo rights charge lacks bite
JIANG JINGJING,China Business Weekly staff
US-based IT giant, Apple Computer Inc, is not likely to win its logo registration dispute against the Trademark Appraisal Committee (TAC), according to experts.
Apple Computer applied to register its quirky apple logo for a range of clothing in 2000 in a move to tackle the garment sector in China.
The TAC, under China's State Administration for Industry and Commerce, rejected the application in June last year, saying the logo was similar to a clothing trademark registered by Guangdong Apples Industrial Co.
Apple Computer requested that the Beijing No 1 Intermediate People's Court affirm the trademark of its apple logo as a famous one and approve its trademark application for clothing. But as yet, no decision has been reached since the first hearing, which was held earlier this month.
The IT giant claims that Guangdong Apples has made illegal profits while continuously infringing on the US company's trademark rights.
Under the current Trademark Law, it is unlikely that Apple Computer will win the case, since trademark logo rights apply only within a company's particular field, said Chen Naiwei, director of the Intellectual Property Research Centre at Shanghai Jiaotong University.
Zengcheng-based Guangdong Apples, which produces clothing, shoes and suitcases, registered its apple logo in 1998.
It does not have the same bite taken out of it as Apple Computer's icon.
The IT giant will find it hard to register its similar logo for a range of clothing, said Chen.
"It (the rule on trademark registration) is a normal practice throughout the world," he said.
Apple Computer registered its computer trademark in China in May of last year.
Jia Zhanying, the lawyer representing the US plaintiff, said the logo of Apple Computer is well-known throughout the world and is unique from other apple logos, since its right side appears to have a good-sized bite out of it, and it has a leaf that extends to the right.
The lawyer said the US computer maker's logo is truly distinct -- its design is like no other company's logo on the planet -- and the firm should be given dispensation for that reason.
The defendant disagrees.
"Although slightly different, the trademark logo of Guangdong Apples and Apple Computer look very similar," Duan Xiaomei, a TAC official said.
She said if the two logos were used on clothes, customers would not be able to tell which brand they had purchased.
Duan also emphasized that Apple Computer's reputation in the field of IT products has not necessarily carried over into the field of clothing.
"Clothing is totally different from computers in terms of functions, consumer groups and sales methods," Duan said.
She added that the plaintiff did not provide any proof that Apple Computer is as influential in the field of clothing as in the computer world.
Whatever the result of the court case, Apple Computer can negotiate with Guangdong Apples to settle the dispute, if the IT giant really attaches great importance to the clothing market, said Chen.
He told China Business Weekly that Apple Computer could buy Guangdong Apples' logo rights.
So far, Apple Computer has declined to comment on the case, saying "it is just a routine procedure of applying for trademarks," according to Wu Guochun, a staff member from the company's marketing department.
She also refused to reveal the company's clothing plans in China.
Guangdong Apples, meanwhile, is said to be discussing the possibility of entering negotiations with Apple Computer over the sale of the logo, according to one of the company's employees, who would not reveal his name.
(Business Weekly 03/23/2004 page1)