Stakes rise in Apple patent dispute

Apple’s long-running dispute with a Taiwanese-owned electronics group over the iPad trademark in China became a real threat to the US company this week as its opponent stepped up efforts to block iPad sales and shipments.

Proview Technology (Shenzhen), the company which registered the iPad trademark in China as early as 2000, said it was trying to get Chinese customs to block iPad imports and exports. Lawyers describe such customs seizures on behalf of intellectual property rights holders as one of the most effective legal tools often used against multinationals.

Earlier in the week, Proview saw some first success from year-long lobbying efforts with local governments as industry and commerce officials in one Chinese city stopped retailers from selling the device.

The history is that Apple, through a front company, acquired iPad trademarks from Proview but did so through Proview Taiwan, another affiliate of the group’s Hong Kong-listed holding company which did not actually own the China trademark.

The case could become a test for Chinese practice in intellectual property law.

A Hong Kong court has sided with Apple, finding Proview guilty of breach of contract. A court in Shenzhen disagreed, however, denying Apple’s request to have the trademark transferred to its name.

Apple’s appeal against that December 2011 Shenzhen court ruling is still pending. A Shanghai court is set to hold a hearing next week on a Proview request for a temporary restraining order against Apple.

Part of this, say lawyers, is theatre, because the two companies remain in negotiations over how much more Apple should pay Proview to gain control of the China trademark. But the stakes are getting higher.

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