One of the most pirated brands in China now has more local protection after Apple was granted 40 design patents on Sept 9 by China's Patent Office. The patents cover 37 of its products including the iPhone, iPad and MacBook Air, as well as the architecture of its three stores in Shanghai.
Most of Apple's new China patents relate to its mobile phones, including various user interface elements and even the speaker, according to Patently Apple, a blog by the company on its latest intellectual property (IP) news.
Apple was also granted three design patents on its iAd mobile advertising network, nine for its iPod nano and four on the MacBook Air. Patent documents include actual photos, the designs in black and white, and graphics in a beige tone that match the color of the Asus Ultrabook, which is considered a copycat by Apple.
Experts surmise that extensive patent documentation on the MacBook Air might be the prelude to an IP infringement lawsuit against the Taiwan-based manufacturer of the upcoming Ultrabook. The Ultrabook was first presented at the Intel Developer Forum in June. At the fall session of the industry forum that began on Sept 13, a new wave of Ultrabook designs were displayed that look similar to the MacBook Air.
Apple also patented its overall store designs with views from the side and top, and one exclusively for its glass panels. After a blogger uploaded pictures of a fake Apple store in Kunming last summer, the story gained widespread coverage in the international media. Subsequent investigations by Chinese IP officials found 22 unauthorized Apple stores in Kunming, three in Chongqing and one in Xi'an.
Some Chinese experts said Apple's mass patent registration is a response to rampant counterfeiting of its products - most commonly fake iPhones - and unauthorized stores.
More than 220 million copycat mobile phones were sold on the Chinese mainland in 2010, according to a report in the Chongqing Times, with the figure expected to reach 250 million by the end of this year. "It shows that Apple has started to strengthen its advantages and market competitiveness by using legal weapons in China since they may foresee the future of copycat designs," said Wang Xiumo, director of the enterprise institute in Chongqing Academy of Social Sciences.
Li Guangdou, a Chinese analyst on brand competitiveness, said that with improvements in China's IP protection system, other famous phone brands might also file massive numbers of patent applications, which will leave less room for the copycat culture to survive.
Instead of pirating designs, producers of fake phones "can cooperate with the brands by using their existing equipment and technologies as supporting manufacturers", Wang said.
(Source: TIPO 2011-09-27)