Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Chinese trademark dispute threatens global shipments from iPad manufacturers

The issue of the iPad trademark in China is escalating quickly. As we wrote earlier, official had begun confiscating iPads as a trademark dispute between Apple and Proview Technology heated up, but now Proview has gone further, asking customs to halt not just imports, but exports.

At the heart of the case is Proview's apparent iPad trademark in China. While you might understand why they might be able to halt imports of the iPad based on that, you might wonder what they are talking about with regard to exports ... until you remember where the iPad is manufactured.

That's right, the request is to halt any exports of the iPad from Apple's Chinese manufacturers. That would halt iPad shipments and sales worldwide.

Roger Xie, a lawyer representing Proview, said by telephone on Tuesday, “We are applying to customs to stop any trademark- infringing products from imports to China and also for exports. Apple wants to postpone and continue infringement of the iPad in China.”

Apple’s Beijing-based spokeswoman, Carolyn Wu, reaffirmed the Cupertino, California-based giant's contention that it earlire bought Proview International's worldwide rights to the iPad trademark in ten countries, including China. However, Proview Technology, a subsidiary of Proview International, contends it still holds the rights in China.

Wu said, “Proview refuses to honor their agreement with Apple in China. Our case is still pending in mainland China.”

Apple sued Shenzhen-based Proview Technology in 2010 over the iPad trademark in China. In a Dec. 15 regulatory filing, Proview said that the Shenzhen Intermediate People’s Court rejected Apple’s claims on Nov. 17. Apple has appealed that ruling to the Higher People’s Court of Guangdong province on Jan. 5, according to a Jan. 27 Proview filing.

While the two companies are at odds about who owns what, it's clear that if Proview can convince Chinese customs to halt exports of the iPad, it would be devastating to Apple. Stan Abrams, an intellectual property lawyer and a law professor at the Central University of Finance and Economics in Beijing said, “There’s got to be a settlement, and fairly soon. I can’t see how much more incentivized to settle Apple could be.”

Proview has filed trademark infringement complaints seeking enforcement from at least 20 local government agencies. As reported on Monday, some of those agencies began seizing iPads in local markets.

Proview has also filed a trademark infringement case against Apple in Shanghai, attempting to halt iPad sales at Apple stores in China. That case is scheduled to begin on Feb. 22.

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