Politics on Apple's side as it faces trademark dispute in China

Apple's iPad could be banned in China if the company loses a high stakes appeal in Chinese court

Politics could tip the scales in Apple's favor for a high-stakes legal battle that will decide ownership of the iPad trademark in mainland China. But some legal experts remain divided on whether it will be enough to help the U.S. tech giant avoid a ban of its iconic tablet in the country.

"This is a really famous case, and Apple is not only a multinational company, but employs a lot of people," said Stan Abrams, an intellectual property lawyer and professor at Beijing's Central University of Finance and Economics. "The political argument in itself does favor Apple."

Apple faces the prospect of paying fines totalling millions of U.S. dollars and seeing its iPad banned in the country if the company loses a court battle with a little-known Chinese firm called Proview, which has also claimed ownership of the iPad trademark in China.

On Wednesday, Apple and Proview exchanged arguments during a court hearing appealing a December ruling that rejected Apple's claims to the iPad name. The dispute centers on whether Proview sold the iPad trademark to Apple in 2009, given that the transaction was made not by Proview's headquarters, but by a subsidiary in Taiwan.

"The legal issues are kind of hairy when you look at technical arguments. Did one company authorize the other to act?" Abrams said. The court could go either way, he said.

But Chinese authorities could decide to factor in Apple's importance to the country when the court makes it decision, he said. "Apple pays its taxes, and it's popular. Those kind of things matter," Abrams said. "Politically there is not as much of an argument for Proview."

Proview, a Chinese display vendor, has shut down its business after seeing its funds dry up following the financial crisis in 2008. The company, now controlled by eight banks, wants Apple to pay US$400 million for the iPad trademark.

For months now, Proview has been filing lawsuits and complaints to request authorities stop iPad sales, in an effort to pressure Apple to settle, according to legal experts. Last month, Proview also filed a lawsuit in the U.S. against Apple, alleging that the U.S. tech giant had misled Proview in selling off its iPad trademarks.

Although Apple tried to present new arguments in Wednesday's court hearing, the company will still likely lose its legal battle against Proview, according to Zhao Zhanling, a legal expert on China's information technology law.

During Wednesday's court hearing, Apple had tried to establish that Proview's top management was fully aware it was selling off its iPad trademarks for mainland China. The evidence included emails sent by officials Apple claims worked at Proview's headquarters in Shenzhen.

Zhao, however, said Apple's arguments were unconvincing. "I think there is little hope Apple will win," he said.

Apple instead will have to weigh between settling with Proview or changing the name of its iPad product in order to sell its tablet in China. If Apple chooses to change the tablet's name, Chinese authorities will still want to penalize the U.S. tech giant for past iPad sales because of trademark infringement, Zhao added.

"I think vendors will stop selling the iPad in order to avoid any risk of seeing legal action. Some websites have already stopped selling the iPad," he said. "So in the short term people won't be able to buy the iPad."

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Michael Kan

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Essentials

Brother MFC-L3745CDW Colour Laser Multifunction

Learn more >

Mobile

Exec

Sony WH-1000XM4 Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Tom Pope

Dynabook Portégé X30L-G

Ultimately this laptop has achieved everything I would hope for in a laptop for work, while fitting that into a form factor and weight that is remarkable.

Tom Sellers

MSI P65

This smart laptop was enjoyable to use and great to work on – creating content was super simple.

Lolita Wang

MSI GT76

It really doesn’t get more “gaming laptop” than this.

Jack Jeffries

MSI GS75

As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.

Taylor Carr

MSI PS63

The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Featured Content

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?