Apple defends claims to iPad trademark in Chinese court hearing

Apple is locked in a legal battle with a Chinese firm over who owns the iPad trademark in China

Apple's lawyers defended the company's claims to the iPad trademark in China on Wednesday during a high-stakes court hearing that could decide whether Chinese authorities ban the tablet for trademark infringement.

"Among consumers across the world, the iPad trademark is already uniquely connected with Apple," said company lawyer Shi Yusheng. "When consumers see a tablet with an iPad trademark, they know it comes from Apple, and not from another company.

The court hearing at the Guangdong Province Higher People's Court was held after Apple filed an appeal to a December ruling that rejected the U.S. tech giant's claims to ownership over the iPad trademark in the country.

Apple contends it bought the trademarks in 2009 from Chinese firm Proview, a financially-struggling display vendor. But Proview has argued the rights were never formally transferred, and has further responded by filing its own lawsuits and complaints, requesting the Chinese government stop all iPad sales in the country.

If Apple's appeal is rejected, Proview's request to stop iPad sales will likely be granted as more than 30 commercial regulatory offices are already investigating the matter. Last week, a Shanghai court also temporarily suspended hearings on whether to halt iPad sales in Apple's Shanghai stores until the Guangdong superior court made its ruling on the appeal.

On Wednesday, Apple and Proview lawyers exchanged arguments during the court hearing, which lasted more than six hours, but resulted in no ruling by the end of the day. Apple's lawyers claimed that Proview's top management had full knowledge that the company was selling off the iPad trademark, citing emails sent by Proview representatives in 2009. Apple's lawyers also argued that it would be unfair if the court ruled against the company, given that it was Apple which made the iPad name famous.

"The iPad name is already synonymous with tablets," Shi said. "People say they will go buy an iPad, not that they will buy a tablet that's manufactured by Apple and has the iPad brand."

Proview's lawyers, however, said Apple was using its popularity to get away with trademark theft. They added that the iPad trademark rights were never transferred because Apple's contract to buy the rights were signed with a Proview subsidiary in Taiwan, which has no authority to sell off the iPad trademark for mainland China.

"The emails Apple provided show a two-sided business discussion with a goal of signing a contract," said Xie Xianghui, a lawyer representing Proview. "But according to business practices, discussions do not constitute a contract, whether they be done through email or oral communications."

Xie said in an interview after the court hearing that Apple provided no new evidence in its appeal. Proview is open to negotiations with Apple to settle the dispute, although no such discussions have begun, he said.

Earlier this month, a Proview representative said the company wanted Apple to pay US$400 million for the iPad trademark.

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Michael Kan

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