Apple Inc. has lost a second bid to register a trademark for its Apple Watch in China. According to a ruling from Beijing's Intellectual Property Court on Thursday, the design at issue – which consists of a square assortment of apps visible on the Apple Watch's interface – looks too much like a generic home screen seen on many smartphones and watches to enjoy trademark protection.
In rejecting Apple's appeal of a previous ruling from the Chinese trademark body, Beijing's Intellectual Property Court said the tech giant's trademark is "overly complicated" and lacks trademark features. As you may know, in order for a “word, name, symbol, or design (including logos, colors, sounds, product configurations, etc.), or any combination thereof” to function as a trademark, it must be used in commerce to identify and distinguish the goods of one brand from those of another. The court held that instead of serving to alert consumers to the fact that the watch is an Apple product, the general public would most likely view the proposed trademark as an image of the watch's home screen.
In November 2014, Apple applied to register four trademarks in China, for products including the Apple Watch and accessories. This March, the Trademark Appraisal Committee (“TAC”) of the General Administration for Industry and Commerce rejected Apple’s requests, stating that the seemingly complex designs lack marked features valid to be registered as trademarks. Apple appealed the ruling by way of a suit in front of the Beijing IP Court, claiming that the trademarks have been widely used and advertised on the home screen of the Apple Watch, and have earned enough public recognition for consumers to distinguish Apple’s products from other brands.
In short: Apple made an argument that even though its proposed mark is not inherently distinctive (or able – upon being used the very first time – to communicate to the consumer that the mark is identifying the source of the product as opposed to describing the product itself), it has acquired secondary meaning in the minds of consumers, and therefore, should be subject to trademark protection.