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Photograph: Photo by Kārlis Dambrāns, used under CC BY

The status of trademark protection was being debated in China Thursday after smartphone maker Apple lost an appeal in a Chinese court earlier in the week, clearing the way for a local company to continue making "iPhone"-branded leather goods.  

The technology giant's iPod music player was launched in 2001, with the iPhone following in 2007. That same year, Chinese manufacturer Xintong Tiandi registered iPhone as a trademark for use on leather goods. 

A ruling by the Beijing Municipal Higher People's Court on Wednesday said Apple failed to prove the iPhone brand was "familiar to the public and widely known" in 2007, state media reports said. 

According to the Nice Classification, established in a 1957 multilateral treaty administered by the World Intellectual Property Organization, goods and services are classified into 45 classes. 

In most cases, users are able to register trademarks that are identical to registered trademarks in other classes. For example, "Dove" is the name for both a kind of soap and for a series of chocolate products. 

In order to claim ownership of a trademark across classes, a user needs to prove that a particular trademark is very famous and widely known. 

While the Beijing court's judgement may not be unusual, the decision surprised many of the over half a billion smartphone users in China, where iPhones claim about a quarter of total market share.

Many commenters on the Weibo microblogging social media site questioned the court's judgement, with some saying intellectual property law in China was "a joke." 

"Even a well-known trademark like Apple lost! Robbers are everywhere!" one blogger said. 

Some people said they disagreed with the court's judgement that the iPhone was not well known during the year of its launch. 

"In 2007 as I remember, the iPhone 1 was already very popular," project manager He Gu, 35, told dpa.  

Others said Apple should graciously accept the court's judgement. 

"I think Apple has always been overbearing ... to not allow others to use the iPhone brand on other products in other countries," said Shou Shou, a 43-year old schoolteacher. 

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