iMac.  iPhone.  iPod.  iPad.  Apple could put the “i” prefix on anything and it would sell (heck, I am writing this on my MacBook while simultaneously checking my iPhone).  However, purchasing an iPad in China may not give you the tablet computer experience you were expecting.  Unfortunately for the tech giant this is not the first problem it has had in the world’s largest marketplace recently.

Proview, a Chinese technology corporation, trademarked the term “IPAD” for a personal computer it produces.  IPAD, standing for “Internet Personal Access Device” is just a basic desktop computer.  But according to its advertisement translated into English, it “constructs on the dream of technology founded human spirit.”  Even Steve Jobs, noted for his advertising acumen, would approve of technology that could accomplish such a feat.  But aspirational and inspirational advertising is not the only thing that Apple has in common with Proview.

With Proview allegedly owning the trademark on “iPad” in China, Apple was tentatively unable to capitalize on its noted brand recognition when trying to sell its tablet computer there.  Apple, famous for its secrecy, allegedly had its legal team form an opaque corporation in order to purchase the trademark from Proview in China.  Even more intriguing, this supposed opaque corporation’s identity was apparently “IP Application Development Limited” and wanted Proview’s trademark to the “IPAD” name because it was an abbreviation of the company name, rather than because it is the name of the highest selling tablet computer.

This past week a judge in the Shanghai Pudong New Area People’s Court allowed Apple to continue selling the tablet in the greatest commercial marketplace on earth.  This ruling came down despite Chinese provinces having previously banned the sale of the product as a result of its legal confrontation with Proview, a Chinese company.  Not to be outfoxed, Proview has brought the fight to Apple.  On February 17, Proview filed suit against Apple in Santa Clara Superior Court in California.

This case revolves around whether Proview actually sold the rights to Apple for the name “iPad” in 2009.  It is undisputed whether Proview sold the naming rights in other countries, but China, the country at issue with its massive consumer demand, is the country where the name is of the most value.  One claim that Proview makes in its suit is that Apple misrepresented itself by forming a “special purpose entity” (the opaque corporation) in order to acquire the “IPAD” trademark in 2009.

As Proview wades through a land of financial hardship and commercial irrelevance, it is challenging one of the most widely recognized companies and brands on the planet.  Proview may be banking on a boon in PR, in addition to any financial benefits this suit may bring, as it hopes to right its floundering ship.  Even though Apple shows no signs of backing down, the suit will probably continue as long as it remains profitable for Apple to do so.  If Proview is as open to a settlement as they have communicated Apple would probably settle in order to make the suit go away, but for much less than Proview is probably hoping.

– Jeremy Gove

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3 Responses to Apple Locks Horns With Declining Chinese Company Over Trademark to the “iPad” Name

  1. Will P. says:

    Wow “IP Application Development Limited” is a pretty awesome idea. How much lower of a payment might Proview settle for if it didn’t realize it had Apple cutting the check. On the other hand, it would seem naive for Proview not to realize that Apple would be interested and might be behind this.

  2. Mike Ritter says:

    It is interesting that IPAD (the Chinese company) would think that by using the name IPAD they could potentially pull a “fast-one” on consumers who are so familiar with Apple products. Apple can change the iPad to any other name and still reach the large Chinese market because, you know, an iPad by any other name…

  3. Caroline Fleming says:

    Interesting point that “the suit will probably continue as long as it remains profitable for Apple to do so.” If this is a game of financial endurance, I don’t think Proview has much of a chance. But a court could decide that Apple’s misrepresentation of itself to the company constitutes unclean hands. However, I think you’re right that Apple will settle, and that Proview will be less than happy with the results.