11 Jun 2009 14:33

Wi-Fi-disabled iPhone awaiting MIIT approval, faces trademark dispute

By Cindy Geng

Beijing. June 11. INTERFAX-CHINA - A version of Apple's iPhone lacking Wi-Fi capability has made progress towards obtaining a Network Access License (NAL) from the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), although a trademark dispute could set back its launch, sources told Interfax on June 11.

A China Unicom marketing employee, who asked not to be identified, said that the Wi-Fi-disabled iPhone had passed the tests of the State Radio Monitoring Center and obtained a five-year valid Radio Transmission Equipment Type Approval Certificate (RTETAC), which is one of the requirements for getting MIIT's NAL. The model submitted for testing was compatible with GSM, WCDMA and Bluetooth, although it lacked Wi-Fi, according to the source.

Interfax previously reported that Apple prepared both Wi-Fi and non-Wi-Fi iPhones for the tests, as under Chinese regulations, Wi-Fi phones can only be granted NALs if they are also capable of the Chinese-developed wireless technology, WAPI (WLAN Authentication and Privacy Infrastructure).

The China Unicom marketing employee said that the iPhone still has a number of tests to pass before it can receive an NAL, including electromagnetic interference, trial operation, China Compulsory Certification tests, local support and after-sales support system evaluations and many others.

Once these tests are complete, the results will be submitted to the Telecom Equipment Network Access Administration (TENAA), which will decide whether to grant the NAL. If successful, the iPhone will then be able to be legally sold and used in China.

"Our talks with Apple are ongoing. As there are many hurdles to clear before cooperation can go ahead, it won't be a quick process. However, the two parties have both demonstrated their interest in continuing," the source said.

The source dismissed rumors that China Unicom's recent move to sign up with the Open Handset Alliance (OHA) and its plans to develop its own mobile operating system meant that its enthusiasm for the iPhone has waned.

"All Chinese operators are developing their own handset OSs, as the trend for operators ordering phones customized to their services requires it," the source said.

However, the launch of the iPhone could be further delayed by reports that a Chinese company, Hanwang Technology Co. Ltd., trademarked the similar "i-phone" name in China in May 2004 for use with mobile handsets. The trademark does not expire until 2016.

"Hanwang registered the 'i-phone' brand name in the telephone and mobile phone category before Apple launched its first iPhone in the United States in January 2007. According to international principles and practices, 'iPhone' and other variations of the five letters cannot be used for this category of goods in China," Steven He, attorney and founding partner of Beijing Honor-base Law Firm, told Interfax.

He suggested that there are two possible ways to resolve the issue. First, Apple could appeal to the trademark office of the State Administration of Industry and Commerce and the courts to reclaim the trademark, although He said this would be a very long and complicated process with a very high probability of failure. The second way would be to negotiate with Hanwang to authorize Apple to use the name in China.

When contacted by Interfax, Apple's Beijing office said its PR officials were on vacation, and could not comment.