MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico's trademark body said on Thursday it had ruled in favor of local telecoms company iFone in a dispute over the marketing of iPhone services, opening the door to potential damage claims against the country's biggest mobile providers.
Apple Inc, maker of iPhone smartphones, was not affected by the ruling by the Mexican Institute for Industrial Property (IMPI) against America Movil, Telefonica and Iusacell for advertising mobile phone subscriber plans with the name "iPhone" in the title.
"It's because a brand registered for products was being used for services," said a spokesman for the IMPI, which is part of Mexico's Economy Ministry.
"Apple doesn't have a problem because they just sell telephones," another official at the IMPI said.
The ruling fell in favor of iFone S.A. de C.V., a provider of telecoms services, because the iPhone brand was generating confusion with the Mexican company's business, the IMPI said.
Mexico's iFone registered its name in 2003, some four years before Apple introduced the iPhone, the IMPI noted.
The three main providers of cellphone services in Mexico face nominal fines payable to the government equivalent to up to 20,000 days of the minimum wage in Mexico City, the IMPI said. That implies a sum of up to 1.35 million pesos ($104,700).
In future, the companies will not be allowed to market smartphone packages using the iPhone name, the IMPI said.
Apple's copyright of the iPhone was unaffected by the decision, the trademark body said. However, the ruling now gives iFone the option of pursuing damages in civil courts against the three phone companies in Mexico for loss of business.
The decision, which stems from a suit brought by iFone in 2012, was unusual in uniting three bitter rivals in Mexico's telecommunications market, which is dominated by America Movil, a giant company controlled by billionaire Carlos Slim.
Iusacell is joint owned by Televisa and TV Azteca, who dominate the television market.
Apple in 2009 tried to sue iFone over the iPhone name. But the U.S. company eventually lost the case.
The three phone companies have the right to appeal the decision, the IMPI said. A spokesman for America Movil said the company was still considering its response.
Reporting by Dave Graham and Jean Luis Arce; Editing by Christopher Cushing