News broke all over the web today that Apple had lost a "major" trademark case against a company called iFone that might prevent it from selling the iPhone in Mexico. The story seemed almost too good to be true, especially since Apple was the first to bring the suit against iFone, a small call center company that filed for its mark in 2003, four years before the iPhone came out. The tech media, in love with the idea that Apple's litigious ways had backfired, took the story and ran with it.
Unfortunately, it just isn't accurate — while Apple did lose an appeal over the iFone trademark in Mexico, it has no bearing on its ability to sell the iPhone in that country, and sources tell The Verge that there is no injunction in place. Indeed, the iPhone 5 is already available unlocked on Apple Mexico's website, and the launch with Telcel, Movistar, and Iusacell appears to be unaffected. So what's really going on here?
The story seemed too good to be true — and it is
Trademarks are filed in classes — internationally-recognized categories that describe what a trademark is for. So Apple has a trademark for the word "Apple" in Class 9, which includes computers, software, cameras, and mobile phones, and Apple Vacations* has a trademark on "Apple" in class 39, which includes travel arrangement. As you'd expect, companies like Apple file to protect ultra valuable trademarks like "iPhone" in every class they can come up with an argument for, since it protects against infringement and brand dilution. That's where iFone comes in — it has a single Mexican trademark on the word "iFone" in Class 38, which covers telecommunication services. Apple runs a few of those, like iMessage and FaceTime, and indeed, it has a Class 38 US trademark on "iPhone."
Apple already owns two iPhone trademarks in Mexico in Class 9 and Class 28, which covers electronic game devices. But in 2009, Apple's lawyers decided iFone's Mexican Class 38 mark wasn't being actively used, and they filed a lawsuit to try and get it canceled so they could register their own pending Class 38 mark on "iPhone." iFone obviously disagreed and convinced the Mexican courts that they were still using the mark in commerce, which is where today's ruling comes from — Apple lost another round of appeals trying to cancel the iFone mark in Class 38. iFone attorney Eduardo Gallastegui was obviously happy about it, telling wire service Efe that "iFone is fully entitled to the use of its brand name."
Apple already owns two iPhone trademarks in Mexico, and it wanted a third
The confusion appears to come from what Gallastegui told El Universal, which details iFone's trademark infringement countersuit and demands against Apple. Garbled through Google Translate, it sounds like the court ordered Apple to pay substantial fines and perhaps even pull the iPhone from market — a big deal since the iPhone 5 just launched with Mexican carrier partners. But those are just the demands, and iFone's case doesn’t appear to have gone anywhere yet. We'll obviously update if we learn otherwise, but I would guess Apple and iFone will eventually settle this one and we'll never hear about it again.
*Actually, the "Apple" mark for travel arrangements belongs to Apple Vacations' parent company, the ominous-sounding Coryn Group, Inc. But you take my point.