Tuesday, February 28, 2012

iPad, youPad, wePad? Who Is the Owner of the Trademark in China?

iPads for sale in the Apple Store at Central, Hong Kong
 Photo Danny Friedmann
Apple introduced a third category, in between a laptop and smartphone, on January 27, 2010 (see the late Steve Jobs give the presentation here and demonstration here and here). April 3, 2010 it was intoduced in the U.S. and one month later in other places around the world. Two months later already a million of these devices were sold. And according to Reuters, Apple has sold 15.43 million iPads in the last 14 weeks of 2011.

So Jobs vision became reality. But how to name this third category? 

" ... and we call it the iPad." 
That other companies had already registered the name iPad in some jurisdictions could be solved, so the thinking went. For this purpose Apple set up a special purpose company to acquire these trademarks in all relevant jurisdictions. The name of the company IP Application Development Limited is interesting, because abbreviated it is IPAD Ltd. 

In the acquisition process, or rather effort to assign the trademark, a mistake was made. IPAD Ltd. and Proview Holdings, Proview Electronics (Taiwan) and Proview Technology (Shenzhen) entered into a written agreement, December 2009, whereby they agreed to sell, transfer and assign the Chinese trademark of iPad to IPAD Ltd. for £35,000. However, in the written agreement Proview Electronics (Taiwan) pretended to be the proprietor of the trademark and "assigned" the trademark to IPAD Ltd. But the real proprietor was Proview Technology (Shenzhen). John Paczkowski seems to have gathered some of the documents, see here. Then Proview Technology (Shenzhen) started to try to enjoin the sale of iPads in China for alleged infringement of their iPad trademark, and was successful in cities such as Shijiazhuang and Huizhou, according to David Levine in an article for Reuters. Or, if Apple wanted to avoid getting banned from the Chinese shops and gain control over the iPad trademark, they had to pay 10,000 U.S dollar. 
Also it became clear that Proview Technology (Shenzhen) had lodged applications with the Trademark Office, part of the State Administration for Industry and Commmerce, to transfer the Chinese iPad trademarks to Yoke Technology on May 7, 2010. 

The mistake by IPAD Ltd/Apple could have been easily prevented. If you go to Trademark Search of China's Trademark Office, part of State Administration for Industry and Commerce, and type in IPAD in class international trademark 9, you will see that Proview Technology (Shenzhen) registered the trademark January 10, 2000, see registration number 1590557 and that the effective period of exclusive right: June 21, 2011-June 20, 2021, however, it seems to be repealed because of non-use for three years). Also Proview Technology (Shenzhen) has registered the stylized version of the trademark, international trademark class 9, under registration number 1682310, application date September 19, 2000. Effective period of exclusive right: December 14, 2001- December 13, 2011. Continued after objection. So at least IPAD Ltd could have easily found a starting point to trace who owns the iPad trademark for international trademark class 9. 

Everybody knows Apple these days, but Proview used to be famous too. Proview Group is a producer of display devices, which  include LCD monitors, CRT monitors and flat-panel digital products. It has operations and offices around the world, including Taiwan, Mainland China (Shenzhen and Wuhan), Hong Kong and Europe. Proview Holdings was incorporated in Bermuda and is listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. Proview International Holdings Ltd was the first Taiwanese technology company to list in Hong Kong, and was quite successful. In 1999 it teamed up with U.S. chip maker National Semiconductor "to launch the I-PAD, a stripped-down desktop computer whose main selling points were its Internet connectivity and ease of use." Then Proview was hit by the financial crisis and May 12, 2010, the Hong Kong Stock Exchange issued a notice that trading of Proview Holdings’ shares had been suspended. Read here Jeremy Wagstaff and Lee Chyen Yee's Reuters article on Proview's rise and demise, see here.

May 20, 2011, Apple Inc. and IPAD Ltd filed a lawsuit in Hong Kong against Proview International Holding Ltd, Proview Electronics Co (Taiwan) Ltd, Proview Technology (Shenzhen), Yang Rong-Shan (founder of the Proview Group and  chairman and CEO of Proview Holdings who was adjudicated bankrupt on August 2, 2010) and Yoke Technology (Shenzhen). The Hong Kong case reveals many of the relevant facts: High Court Of The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Court Of First Instance, Action no. 739 of 2010  (HCA739/2010). On June 28, 2011 the Poon J. (潘兆初法官), decided and July 14, 2011 he motivated his decision to allow  the interlocutory injunction and restrain the defendants to "sell, transfer, assign, otherwise dispose of and/or give good title" to the Chinese iPad trademarks. 

May 24, 2010, Apple instituted proceedings against Proview Technology (Shenzhen) in the Shenzhen Intermediate People’s Court and filed an application for Asset Preservation Order (APO) in respect of the Chinese iPad trademarks. June 12, 2010 the application was granted on 12 June 2010, subject to the APOs obtained by some other Mainland banks.

Proview Technology (Shenzhen) has started suing Apple resellers at the Shenzhen Futian District Court (December 30, 2011) and Huizhou Intermediate People's Court (January 7, 2012), read Katrin Hille's FT article here and about Apple losing there here, at Stan Abram's China Hearsay.

According to Shenzhen Media People’s Court Apple lost its trademark ownership on December 6, 2011, see Huang Mengren's article here. Apple decided to appeal at the Guangdong Higher People's Court.
February 22, 2012, there was a trademark infringement case between Proview and Apple at the Shanghai  Pudong New Area People's Court. Apple was successful to the extent that Apple's iPads were not banned from the shelves. But as Stan Abrams of China Hearsay made clear, see here and here, the real question is who owns the iPad trademark. This will be decided at the Guangdong Higher People's Court, February 29, 2012.

In the mean time Proview Electronics (Taiwan) has accused Apple of fraud in a lawsuit filed at the Superior Court of California, County of Santa Clara. See here. However, in contrast to trademark lawyer Martin Schwimmer of The Trademark Blog, who was quoted by David Levine responding to the case: "I have never encountered this level of ruse", see here: I think it is not so strange nor unusual if you set up a special purpose company for the acquisition of a name such as iPad. Especially since iPhone is so ubiquitously known that if Apple pursued the trademark iPad, it would have definitely driven up the price, as this case proofs: from 35,000 pounds to 10 million U.S. dollars. There is no legal requirement to disclose the reason why you want to buy a trademark. Or is there?

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