Judgment sought in iPad IP dispute
While sales of its new iPad are trending upwards, Apple appears to be fortifying its legal position over the media tablet's trademark.
Apple, the world's most valuable company, asked the Hong Kong High Court last week to ensure that its case against Proview International, its subsidiaries and the group's bankrupt founder, Taiwanese businessman Rowell Yang Long-san, proceeds to trial on schedule.
That trial would provide final adjudication on Apple's claim that defendants Yang and the Proview group violated their agreement on December 23, 2009, to transfer all their iPad trademarks, including two registered on the mainland, to the technology giant and IP Application Development, a representative company it set up in Britain in 2009 to acquire trademarks to the iPad name.
Hong Kong's Court of First Instance in July issued preliminary injunctions against the defendants, who refused to assign the two mainland-registered trademarks to Apple and IP Application Development by asserting that these trademarks were not part of the December 2009 deal.
In his decision, Justice Jeremy Poon Shiu-chor said: 'There is clearly a serious question to be tried that the contracting defendants have acted in breach of the agreement.'
Whether or not a final ruling by a Hong Kong court could help Apple in its litigation on the mainland against Proview Technology (Shenzhen) is yet to be determined.
Proview Shenzhen, a subsidiary of failed Hong Kong-listed computer-display maker Proview International, claims ownership over the two mainland-registered iPad trademarks and is locked in litigation against Apple in the Higher People's Court of Guangdong.
Stan Abrams, a Beijing-based intellectual-property lawyer and professor, said the final adjudication in Hong Kong 'could be worth something' for Apple in its mainland dispute 'if the company can quickly get a favourable judgment, if the court in Guangzhou will consider that as new evidence at this late date, and if this evidence will be given weight by the court ... However, that's a lot of ifs.'
The Intermediate People's Court in Shenzhen in November ruled against Apple in its trademark-infringement lawsuit against Proview Shenzhen, which was declared to have the rights to that brand on the mainland.
Apple lodged its appeal in January to the Higher People's Court of Guangdong, which heard the case last month. The court suggested that Apple and Proview Shenzhen consider a private settlement before it handed down a ruling on the dispute.
Proview Shenzhen had earlier said the mainland trademarks would cost Apple up to US$2 billion.
Li Shunde, a Chinese Academy of Social Sciences research specialist in intellectual-property law, said the verdict in the Guangzhou court would normally be final. Apple, however, could pursue a retrial through the Supreme People's Court in Beijing if it argued exceptional conditions, such as an extremely flawed verdict.
Abrams said a final ruling in a Hong Kong court that favours Apple 'could serve as a nice stick that Apple can use in terms of public relations or directly against the Hong Kong-listed Proview company'.
Cash-strapped Proview International, whose shares have been suspended from trading since August 2, 2010, has been targeted for delisting by the Hong Kong stock exchange by June 29 this year. Several mainland banks are still owed money by Proview International, despite the auctioning off its assets in Ningbo and Shenzhen last year.
Carolyn Wu, Apple's spokeswoman in Beijing, last week accused the Proview group of 'misleading Chinese courts' and the public.
Wu said the group had not used the iPad name for more than three years when Apple's representative firm IP Application Development started talks about acquiring their trademarks to the brand.
is the number of iPad devices that Apple sold worldwide in its first 80 days, according to Wikipedia