Apple's iPad 3 could face customs ban in China

Proview, the company claiming the iPad trademark, has asked Chinese customs to ban import and export of the tablet

Apple's much speculated iPad 3 has emerged as the latest target in an ongoing trademark dispute in China, after a little-known Chinese firm said on Wednesday it has filed for a customs ban with local authorities to stop the import and export of the tablet.

Ma Dongxiao, a lawyer for display vendor Proview, said the company has filed the request with the country's custom offices, but declined to offer details. "We feel that Apple is infringing on the iPad trademark," he said, adding that the company's goal was to stop shipments of Apple's next generation iPad.

Both Proview and Apple have been locked in a legal battle to determine which company owns the iPad trademark in mainland China. In December, a Shenzhen court rejected Apple's claims to the trademark, putting the company's iPad at risk of further legal action in the country.

China is not only a major market for Apple, but also home to many of the factories that build the company's products. If a customs ban is allowed, it could stop the import of iPad tablets to the country, but is unlikely to affect exports, said Stan Abrams, an intellectual property lawyer and professor at Beijing's Central University of Finance and Economics.

"Apple can come back and say to the government, 'We have the right to make stuff here,'" he said, noting that Apple owns the iPad trademark in other countries.

More than 30 commercial regulatory offices in China are investigating Apple's sales of the iPad following complaints made from Proview, according to the company's lawyer. One of those offices, located in the Chinese city of Xuzhou, confirmed on Wednesday an investigation was taking place, but declined further comment. Another Chinese city, Shijiazhuang, has reportedly seized iPad tablets from merchants.

Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The company has appealed the December court ruling. Apple claims the company bought the iPad trademark from Proview's subsidiary in Taiwan.

Although its still unclear how authorities will proceed, Abrams said Proview is pressuring Apple to settle and buy the iPad trademark. But Proview, which has filed for bankruptcy, could be asking for a sum Apple believes is too high and unwilling to pay.

"If there isn't a (settlement), this could be a big problem for Apple," he said. "They could have damages to pay for past iPad sales and even future sales. That's a big headache. Proview has all these cases they have filed all over the country."

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Michael Kan

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