Apple Threatened with iPad Shipment Ban in China Trademark Fight

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Outside an Apple store in Shanghai, China.

Apple’s trademark dispute with a Chinese firm over the term “iPad” is getting knottier by the day for the U.S. technology giant. Proview Technology, which says it owns the trademark for “iPad” in China, plans to ask Chinese customs authorities to ban all imports and exports of Apple’s wildly popular computer tablet, according to multiple reports.

Apple’s iPad, of course, is manufactured in China, so if the ban is approved, it could effectively halt all shipments of the device from China to the rest of the world. That seems unlikely, given that China is the world’s number one exporter of consumer electronics, and depends on Western companies like Apple to fuel its rapidly growing economy, but Proview says it’s making the request anyway.

Apple’s iPhones and iPads are manufactured at sprawling factories¬†in southern China owned by Foxconn Technology Group.

“We are now working on a request to China Customs to ban and seize all the import and export of the iPad products that have violated the trademark,” Xie Xianghui, a Proview lawyer, told¬†the Associated Press.

(More: Background on the Apple vs. Proview iPad Dispute)

Proview’s latest move in the multi-year intellectual property dispute comes one day after reports emerged that Chinese authorities had begun seizing iPads off the shelves of retailers in at least one Chinese city. Proview has asked for iPads to removed in 30 other cities, the AP reported from Beijing.

Ironically, Chinese laws that provide for the seizure of goods that violate copyright were put in place “partly in response to foreign pressure for Beijing to stamp out rampant unlicensed copying of foreign movies, music and designer clothes,” the AP said, citing Stan Abrams, an American lawyer who teaches intellectual property law at Beijing’s Central University of Finance and Economics.

For its part, Apple insists that it owns the iPad trademark in China. “We bought Proview’s worldwide rights to the iPad trademark in 10 different countries several years ago,” said Carolyn Wu, an Apple spokeswoman in Beijing. “Proview refuses to honor their agreement with Apple in China.”

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Proview says its parent company registered the iPad name for use in Taiwan and China in 2000 and 2001, respectively. In 2006, Apple bought the iPad trademark from another Proview subsidiary, Taiwan-based Proview Electronics, which says the deal only included the rights to the name in Taiwan, not China. The Chinese rights are owned by the first subsidiary, Proview Technology, based in the southern China city of Shenzhen.

Last year, Proview Technology sued Apple for violating its trademark. Apple countersued, but lost the case. Apple has since appealed. In the meantime, Proview has filed for an injunction, which would bar Apple from the selling the device in China. And now, Proview says it wants to ban all imports and exports of the device from the country.

According to local reports, Proview is asking for compensation of up to $1.6 billion from Apple.