Apple may have just lost a key battle in China before they even began to fight it.

A report by Chinese electronics site GizChina claims that a company called GooPhone boasted that it has obtained a Chinese patent on the design of Apple's iPhone 5, taken from leaked photos of the device that were published online.

Their phone, the GooPhone i5, will reportedly ship with Android 4.0 and some pretty capable hardware, including a quad-core 1.4Ghz processor, an 8 mega-pixel camera, a high-def screen and even an Android desktop theme designed to look just like an iPhone's characteristic layout.

GooPhone is one of many Chinese electronics knockoff-makers that have gotten especially good at their mimicry in recent years, but if it's true that they've obtained a patent on the iPhone 5's design before Apple even announced it, that could give them leverage in the courts -- possibly even enough to challenge Apple's right to sell its device in the country.

And while the GooPhone i5 is clearly an abuse of the Chinese patent system and a case of brazen theft of intellectual property, it's not clear if Apple would overcome such a challenge, or if a victory would even shut GooPhone down.

Wired notes that the company has a history of selling sophisticated knockoffs of other popular phones, including the iPhone 4, and their website even recycles some of the original press shots for the devices they're ripping off.

The obvious irony here is that Apple is trying to prevent Korean electronics-maker Samsung from selling its premiere Galaxy S3 phone in the U.S. based upon their earlier victory in a patent battle that saw Apple win more than $1 billion in damages.

While a jury did agree that Samsung's designs were a little too similar to Apple's, the case was still highly controversial and could forever change how smartphones are conceived, designed and sold. Even so, it wouldn't have been close if it were GooPhone's attorneys in the courtroom instead of Samsung's.

This video was published to YouTube by GizChina on Sept. 3, 2012.