Thursday, February 23, 2012

Proview files suit in the U.S., moves the iPad trademark battle to Apple's home

The saga of Proview vs. Apple in terms of the iPad trademark in China continues, with Apple winning a skirmish in Shanghai on Wednesday, but with Proview escalating the issue to the U.S., where it was revealed on Thursday that the company has filed suit against Apple.

On Wednesday, Shanghai Pudong New Area People's Court denied Proview Technology's request for an injunction against the sales of iPads in the city. If the court had agreed, it would have been supremely embarrassing for Apple, as three of its flagship stores are in Shanghai.

That doesn't mean Apple is out of the woods in China. Although Proview, which continues to contend that it has the rights to the iPad trademark in China, has failed to gain national backing from agencies such as customs in its battle, it has brought cases to courts in some 40 cities, and has succeeded in getting some retailers to remove iPads from their store shelves.

Meanwhile, in the U.S., Proview has filed a lawsuit against Apple in the Superior Court of the State of California in Santa Clara County. The lawsuit, which was filed on on Feb. 17, but previously went unreported, claims that Apple misled Proview when it used IP Application Development, a company set up by one of its law firms, to purchase the iPad trademark from Proview Electronics, a subsidiary of Proview Technology, on Dec. 23, 2009 for 35,000 British pounds ($55,000).

The actual wording goes a bit harsher than "misled." The suit says that Apple acted "with oppression, fraud and/or malice."

Proview has previously said that one of its subsidiaries sold the name to Apple years ago, but that it didn't have the authority to do so. From the tone of the lawsuit, Proview seems to be acknowledging what some have asked: why would anyone who had any common sense at all sell the iPad trademark to Apple, when rumors of an Apple tablet had been floating for years?

Still more ammo for the Proview side of things: because the company was on the verge of bankruptcy, it didn't have any authority to sell assets such as a trademark without creditor approval. Proview founder Rowell Yang said, “The banks controlled Proview Shenzhen from March 2009. We needed bank approval for any sale of assets.”

If Proview had managed to get customs cooperation when it requested both imports and exports of iPads be shut off, this probably would have been settled out of court long ago. Without that leverage, it awaits lower court rulings, including an appeal Apple has filed against an earlier decision in Proview's favor by a court in Shenzhen, in the southern province of Guangdong, to give Apple more incentive to settle.

That is, of course, assuming the rulings continue in Proview's favor.

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