Apple fails to block Huawei's MatePod trademark for AirPods rivals in China because they will ‘not cause confusion'

Asia's Tech News Daily

Apple, Huawei Technology Co, Xiaomi, Oppo, Vivo, enormous interest in its latest iPhone 13, AirPods Pro, Lunar New Year

Apple has lost another legal attempt to block Huawei Technology Co’s use of the “MatePod” name, this time for a pair of earbuds, according to the Trademark Office of the China National Intellectual Property Administration (CNIPA).

Apple opposed the Shenzhen-based company’s use of the “Huawei MatePod” brand in the earphone category on the grounds that it was similar to Apple’s own trademarks for the terms Pod, iPod, EarPods and AirPods, according to a recently publicised document on the CNIPA website. The iPhone maker argued that Huawei “maliciously copied” Apple’s trademarks, which could have a negative impact on society.

The argument did not prove compelling for the trademark authority, which ruled in September that there was “insufficient evidence” to prove Huawei’s applications to be copycats.

Huawei was granted the MatePod trademark, but Apple still has the right to make further appeals to CNIPA to annul the decision. Huawei declined to comment, and Apple did not respond to a request for comment.

In its ruling, the CNIPA acknowledged that the companies’ trademarks share similar “functionalities, sales channels and target consumers”, but “the English spelling of the trademarks are different, and the differentiations in pronunciation and the overall appearance are distinct”.

“Therefore, the trademarks of the two companies are not similar trademarks on similar products,” CNIPA determined, “and the coexistence would not cause confusion among the consumers.”

In June, the agency rejected another attempt by Apple to block Huawei from using the MatePod name, but in the advertising and online advertising categories.

Like many other tech companies these days, Huawei has been pushing its own brand of truly wireless earphones. Its current AirPods rivals are called FreeBuds.

The market for these products has become fiercely competitive since smartphone makers started doing away with headphone jacks in 2016. China is expected to see 120 million Bluetooth headphones shipped this year, according to a report this month from IDC.

Apple was the biggest player in wireless earphones in China last year, taking up 15.6 per cent of the market, according to a separate IDC report. Huawei and Xiaomi followed with 8.8 per cent and 8.4 per cent, respectively.

Still, the market remains relatively diverse. The top three wireless earphone brands accounted for 32.8 per cent of the market in China last year, while smaller vendors accounted for about half.

By comparison, Huawei, Oppo and Vivo made up nearly three quarters of all smartphone shipments in China last year, according to IDC’s numbers. That market has been a little more competitive this year as sanctions against Huawei took a greater toll, but Vivo, Oppo and Xiaomi still took up nearly half of the market in the second quarter.

China remains an important market for Apple, where it has seen enormous interest in its latest iPhone 13 line of devices, and it has been offering unique promotions for its AirPods.

In February, Apple tried to woo Chinese consumers with a special edition of the AirPods Pro that featured an Ox, the current zodiac animal, to celebrate the Lunar New Year.

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