More iPad Trademark “News”: China Court to Delay Ruling

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We haven’t had any news on the iPad trademark fight between Apple and Proview in quite some time, so the overnight headlines might have got you a little excited. But there’s a reason I put the word “news” in sneer quotes in the post title. This is not exactly significant:

A Chinese court will delay its decision on Apple Inc.’s appeal of a ruling denying its ownership of the iPad trademark in China to let the company pursue mediation with Proview Technology (Shenzhen) Co.

The Higher People’s Court of Guangdong won’t release a ruling on Apple’s Feb. 29 appeal so long as both parties continue talking, Zhao Le, a spokesman at the court’s foreign affairs office said in a phone interview today.

My first reaction to this is to ask why the court felt compelled to make any announcement at all. No rulings have been made with respect to a verdict, a motion or anything else, so why this non-news release? Well, the court has been sitting on the case for a while now, and they’ve probably been inundated with requests from an anxious media. Eventually you gotta feed the news monkey or it will get upset and throw its feces on you, and nobody wants that.

Alternatively, the court could have said nothing, and in fact, that brief statement is pretty close to nothing as it is. However, there are two ways of interpreting what the court said. The “Why are you wasting our time?” interpretation would be to admit that of course the court will withhold judgment while the parties are in settlement negotiations. That makes sense, doesn’t it?

On the other hand, we could go with the “Reading between the lines” interpretation. This calls for a bit of speculation, but it’s possible (I’d say more than possible) that the court is sitting on this and putting lots of pressure of the parties behind the scenes to facilitate a harmonious agreement force a settlement and stop all this ugliness. As I’ve mentioned before, this is quite common in civil litigation, including intellectual property and commercial cases involving foreign litigants.

If you’re confused about the timing of all this, it’s rather simple. Here’s what China’s Civil Procedure Law has to say:

Article 159. The people’s court trying a case on appeal shall conclude the case within three months after docketing the case. Any extension of time needed because of special circumstances is subject to the approval of the president of the court.

This is what’s called a “soft deadline” (well, actually I just made that up). But really, that 3-month deadline, just like the 6-month deadline for trials of first instance, can be quite squishy when it comes to litigation involving foreign companies. I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a ruling early last month, but I’m also not surprised that we’re still waiting now. Pushing a settlement doesn’t happen all the time, but we can still call it standard operating procedure.

But for heaven’s sake, don’t read too much (on a Friday!) into the procedural aspects of this, as a post on Apple Insider does:

Under normal operating conditions the Chinese court would issue a ruling on an appeal within three months, but that time frame has been thrown out the window because Apple and Proview have yet to wrap up cases in other jurisdictions.

Yeah, the court is extending the deadline as it is allowed to do under law. Saying that the deadline has been “thrown out the window” makes it sound like something odd is going on here, which is not accurate. Moreover, I doubt the court cares too much about what’s going on in other jurisdictions. It simply wants a settlement and is willing to wait until one is hammered out.

The only remaining questions now are:

1. What number will both parties accept?

2. If that number doesn’t exist, what will the court do then?