A Sichuan-based company that produces noodles and flour has been accused by Apple of trademark infringement.
Apple's Chinese lawyers say that the logo of Sichuan Fangguo Food Co., Ltd. (四川方果食品有限公司) uses conceptual elements taken from the computer company's, reported the Tianfu Morning Post/Sichuan Online September 6.
Fangguo's logo, a circle with the bottom left-hand three-quarters missing, is meant to resemble an apple, with its stem and right-facing leaf.
Fangguo CEO Zhao Yi seems to think it's a load of hot air. He disagrees that the logos are similar and scoffs at Apple's lawyers complaint that the design concept is similar. "There's a leaf so you can tell it's an apple, but it also contains two Chinese characters. ... The orientation is also different, and ours is a totally different shape ... ." Besides, he added, "When I started Fangguo, I had never even heard of Apple."
Zhao received a letter dated July 19 from the Guangzhou branch of Beijing Zhucheng Law written on behalf of Apple, that notified him of the dispute. The application period for Fangguo's new logo registration was two days away from closing.
The letter included two complaints: First, the resemblance of Fangguo's logo to Apple's. The latter company is known as "Pingguo" in Chinese; the two names feature the same second character, 果/guo, which refers to fruit.
Additionally, the Nanchong, Sichuan-based Fangguo had applied to register its logo under 16 different product categories, including "notebook computers" and "electronic-game software," some of which overlap with categories in which Apple holds trademark registration.
The letter stated that Fangguo should respond before August 6.
Fangguo's trademark-registration license shows a validity period of August 20, 1997 to August 19, 2007. It also states that the commodities produced by the company fall into two categories: flour and noodles. On June 6, 2007, the license was extended to August 19, 2017.
In 2009, Fangguo's production broadened to other food categories, including rice, grain oil, snack foods, and other types of food products. Last year, Fangguo applied for two additional trademarks with the National Trademark Office. On April 20 of this year, the preliminary application period for these trademarks ended.
Fangguo received the status of "Famous Nanchong City Trademark" in 2007 and "Famous Sichuan Province Trademark" the following year. Zhao explained that he registered Fangguo's logo under so many seemingly unrelated product categories not because he had specific plans to expand to other types of manufacturing, but just in case he did meet somebody who wanted to produce, say, Fangguo computers, he would be able to expand the brand name.
He never imagined that somebody would object to the trademark.
Beijing Zhucheng Law attorney Li Gousheng said that Apple closely monitors new trademark applications on China Logo Web. He added that as long as Fangguo eliminates "conflicting elements" by removing the apple leaf in its logo and voiding its trademark registration in product categories conflicting with Apple's, the dispute will be resolved.
But Zhao Yi is standing resolute. "I'm Fangguo, it's a fruit, if the leaf is removed, it'll just look like a bomb." He added, "Anyway, the law firm who sent the letter hasn't contacted me since they sent it."
As part of his preparation for a response to the Zhucheng letter, Zhao created 1,000 questionnaires asking whether or not Fangguo and Apple's logos resemble each other, and if so, how. He asked attendees of the Fourth China Trademark Convention, which opened today at the Chengdu Century City Exhibition Center, to fill them out.
Zhao said even some members of his family use Apple products. He also explained that the Fangguo logo was created by a Beijing-based design company in the 1980s. At that time, it belonged to a state-run Nanchong company. Zhao transferred the logo to his name in 1997. He said the fruit symbolized not only Fangguo but also its base in Nanchong, a city known for its fruit.