Last updated: January 28, 2010 7:31 pm

Apple faces legal scrap over iPad trademark

Apple may face a legal battle with Fujitsu of Japan and ­STMicroelectronics, Europe’s largest chipmaker, over use of the iPad name for its tablet computer. STMicro trademarked the name for its proprietary semiconductor technology in 2000 in Europe and has been using the name since.

Fujitsu has made a handheld computer called the iPad for use by shop assistants since 2002, and has an outstanding trademark application for the name.

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There are other owners of iPad trademarks, including Siemens, which has the right to use the term for engines and motors; and Coconut Grove Pads, which since 2008 has the right to the term for padded bras. The situation is reminiscent of 2007, when Apple first announced the iPhone and Cisco Systems owned the rights to the name. Cisco launched a lawsuit against Apple that was settled when the two companies agreed to share the name. Terms of the deal were never disclosed.

STMicro said it was “looking into the situation” and had not made any decisions on taking action. Fujitsu said: “[The company] is aware of Apple’s iPad announcement and the possible infringement on our trademark . . . We are currently discussing our options with our trademark counsel and have no further comment at this time.”

While trademark disputes rarely prevent the release of products or force a change of name, if Apple cannot overturn Fujitsu’s application or demonstrate that the two products will not be confused, it may have to buy the rights from Fujitsu.

The Fujitsu iPad has a 3.5-inch screen, an Intel processor, a Microsoft operating system and supports both Wi-fi and Bluetooth wireless connections. It is designed to link shop assistants and managers to data on stock and sales.

STMicro’s iPad is less likely to be confused with Apple’s products. It stands for integrated passive and active devices, a type of technology that STMicro uses in many semiconductors. However, STMicro’s chips are used in devices ranging from cars to washing machines and mobile phones, meaning that iPad technology could find its way into rival handheld devices.

Fujitsu initially applied for an iPad trademark in the US in March 2003 but its request was suspended because of an even earlier filing by a company called Mag-Tek, which wanted to use the same name for keypads used to enter personal identification numbers.

At one point Fujitsu’s application was listed as abandoned by the US Patent and Trademark Office but in June 2009 Fujitsu filed to revive it. That application is still outstanding.

In July 2009, acting through a proxy, Apple first applied for the iPad trademark in Trinidad & Tobago, gaining it a “priority date” to use in other international applications.

Apple filed requests in September, October and December last year with the USPTO to give it more time to oppose the Fujitsu application. Apple now has until February 28 to say whether it will oppose Fujitsu’s trademark.

Fujitsu’s trademark lawyer, Edward Pennington of Hanify & King, told Bloomberg: “They probably need to talk to us and we haven’t had any direct communications with Apple.” He described Apple’s position as “awkward”.

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