HONG KONG (CNN) — When it comes to buying an iPhone in Brazil, consumers have one extra option that the rest of us do not.
There’s the “iPhone” made by the California tech giant Apple. Then there’s the “iphone” made by the Brazilian firm Gradiente Eletronica and, perhaps in a slap to Apple, runs on rival Android’s operating system.
And it’s going to stay that way pending any future appeal or settlement.
On Thursday, Brazil’s Institute of Industry Property (INPI), the country’s main patent regulator, ruled that Apple holds no exclusive right to use the iPhone moniker to market its mobile phones. If Apple continues to use the iPhone name, Gradiente can sue.
INIP added that Gradiente Eletronica holds exclusive rights to the trademark though 2018 after having registered for the iPhone name in 2000. Apple only unveiled its iPhone name in 2007.
Apple may have gotten a bruising but an appeal is in the works. And in a twist on timing that Apple hopes may help it win branding rights, Gradiente Eletronica only launched its first “iphone”, the iphone Neo One, in December 2012 — five years after Apple debuted its inaugural iPhone. Gradiente explained it held back on releasing its own iphone until recently as it concluded corporate restructuring from 2008.
Apple’s trademark trouble in Latin America’s most populous country is just the latest in a series of global snafus that have spanned China, Japan and the United States.
Just days after Apple announced its first iPhone in January 2007, Cisco Systems sued the company in U.S. federal court saying it had owned trademark rights since 2000. Apple and Cisco agreed to a settlement the following month that allowed both companies use of the iPhone name.
In 2009, Apple paid Proview Taiwan a sum of $55,000 for use of the “iPad” name in mainland China. But in a complicated dispute, Proview claimed Apple set up a shell company to fool it into selling the trademark. In addition, Proview Taiwan did not actually own the rights to the iPad trademark in mainland China — a subsidiary, Proview Shenzhen, did. Apple only secured the name in 2012 after paying out the actual trademark owner $60 million.
And in 2010, Apple secured the iPad trademark in the United States from Japanese electronics maker Fujitsu which had registered the name in the U.S. in 2003. According to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, the title transfer was recorded on March 17, 2010, five days after Apple began pre-selling its first iPad.