Apple to share iPhone trademark with Brazilian firm

Court attempts to find a middle-ground for the two companies claiming rights over use of the name in Brazil
Written by Angelica Mari, Contributing Writer

Brazilian electronics firm Gradiente has lost its monopoly on the iPhone trademark in Brazil in the latest twist of a six-year court battle against Apple.

The end of exclusivity was determined by the Rio de Janeiro Federal Court earlier this week, as the most recent development of a lawsuit by Apple, who has demanded the nullity of of Gradiente's iphone trademark registration.

While Apple makes the point that it has the rights over the "iFamily" since the late 1990s, Gradiente has registered the iPhone trademark in Brazil back in 2000. According to the latest ruling, that does not mean the Brazilian firm has copied any competitor - including Apple, since the iPhone was only launched in 2007.

The whole issue partly stems from the incredible delays in paperwork processing at the National Institute of Industrial Property (INPI), which received Gradiente's trademark registration request in 2000 and only completed its analysis after eight years. INPI's bosses seem to be aware of the consequences of such lengthy processes around intellectual property and want Brazilian procedures to be similar to those seen in the United States.

As a compromise, Justice Eduardo André Brandão de Brito Fernandes determined that Gradiente will be able to continue to use the iPhone trademark in its Android-based products, so long as it is accompanied by the Gradiente word - so mobile phones would be named Gradiente iPhone. Conversely, Apple will be able to continue to use the trademark iPhone for its devices in Brazil.

Gradiente's iPhone
Image credit: Gradiente

The judge added that if Gradiente was allowed to be the sole user of the iPhone name, Apple would be massively affected, since "all the fame and loyalty to its product resulted from [Apple's] level of competence and degree of excellence. Thus, fragmenting the market in Brazil would represent a punishment for those who worked for the success of the product."

The debate over the iPhone trademark protection is intended to prevent unfair competition and that consumers make mistakes when buying mobile phones. On the other hand, the latest ruling points out that free competition is not absolute and unrestricted and that the establishment of limits and rules among competitors is there to prevent that unlimited freedom causes damages to businesses.

IGB Electronica, which controls Gradiente, said it would appeal the court's decision.


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