Sorry for yet another update on this dispute between Apple and Proview over the iPad trademark in China, but it looks like some real, and real serious, news is out there today that can’t be ignored. Last week, I talked about how Proview, the owner of the PRC iPad trademark, had not only filed an infringement case against Apple in Shanghai but had also approached the Beijing Administration of Industry and Commerce (AIC) for an enforcement action.
Apparently the application to Beijing AIC had been filed some time ago, and yet AIC had sat on it. I speculated in my earlier post as to why that might be while noting that AIC certainly had the ability to conduct a raid at any time against retailers that were selling iPads, including of course the flagship Apple store itself.
Today we get more news: according to press reports, that application to Beijing AIC was not the only one filed by Proview. This makes perfect sense of course. If Proview wants to drive Apple to the bargaining table, why limit themselves to Beijing?
Apple iPads are being removed from a number of retail stores in China following a court’s ruling that a local company owns the right to the name, Hebei Youth Daily reports.
The tablets have been confiscated from shelves in many retail shops and electronic stores due to a Chinese company’s lawsuit against the Apple Inc over the trademark infringement, in Shijiazhuang city, capital of North China’s Hebei province.
Some retailers have removed the iPad tablets to back storerooms, fearing that local Administration of Industry and Commerce will confiscate them.
An inspection squad of the Xinhua District’s Administration of Industry and Commerce in Shijiazhuang city, launched a campaign to crack down the sale of the tablets on Feb 9 after receiving Proview Technology’s complaint. A total of 45 iPad tablets were confiscated by the authority in the district over two days.
[ . . . ]
The company has extended its complaint to the Beijing Administration for Industry and Commerce and appealed to three courts in other places: Shenzhen Futian District People’s Court, Huizhou Municipal Intermediate People’s Court and Shanghai Pudong New Area People’s Court.
OK, if this is accurate, it’s big news. Some of the details are a bit unclear at this point, but I suppose we will get more information in the days ahead. Remember that we have one court case in Shenzhen over the trademark purchase contract between Proview and Apple. Proview won at the Intermediate Court and Apple has filed an appeal. There is also a second civil suit, this one a trademark infringement case, pending in Shanghai.
The first part of this article suggests that an application has been filed by Proview in Shijiazhuang and that the AIC there has responded with several enforcement actions. I say “suggests” because it would be a bit strange for AIC to run around snatching up iPads in the absence of a Proview complaint. Possible, but it usually doesn’t work that way.
So the AIC there has confiscated some iPads and scared some retailers into taking the product off the shelves, at least temporarily. If that sentiment spreads to other retailers, that’s horrible news for Apple, which is reportedly gearing up for a big launch of the iPad 3 next month. Talk about bad timing.
As to the Shijiazhuang actions, this all makes sense. The AIC definitely has the power and the evidence to legally confiscate iPads. Same scenario I talked about last week with respect to Beijing AIC, but in this case, it may actually be happening.
That last paragraph, though, is confusing. We already know about the application with Beijing AIC, but what’s going on in the Shenzhen, Huizhou and Shanghai courts? Even more important, where the hell is Huizhou? (I’m a lawyer, not a geographer.)
If the news report is right, then I assume these are civil suits filed by Proview based on a trademark infringement theory. And once again, Proview would seem to have a very good case against Apple.
This is starting to look very ugly for Apple, and every day this goes on, the price for that trademark is probably going up. Proview is functionally bankrupt and they need the cash ASAP. It looks to me like they’re going to get it sooner or later. Perhaps Apple’s legal team knows something that we don’t, but even if they think they can win these legal challenges, the commercial disruptions in the meantime are going to be significant.
Even if Apple goes on to win the Shenzhen appeal, it would still take some time to obtain the trademark and unwind this whole mess. And that “if” is looking like a slim possibility at this point anyway.
It’s going to be a very rough year for the iPad in China unless this whole thing is wrapped up immediately via a settlement.