Apple Trademark Dispute with Proview Becomes a Global Fight

Apple's trademark dispute with Proview is now being fought on two fronts: at the local level in China and here in Silicon Valley.

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Proview has filed a lawsuit in Santa Clara County Superior Court claiming that Apple committed fraud when it used a company called IP Application Development Ltd., to purchase the iPad trademark from Proview on Dec. 23, 2009. According to The Wall Street Journal, there are emails in which a representative of IP Application Development told Proview "that it wanted to acquire the iPad name because it was an abbreviation of its company's title, and that its future products wouldn't compete with Proview's products."

Reuters is reporting that the strategy of filing now in the U.S. increases the likelihood that the dispute will disrupt Apple's supply of iPads to China, and puts additional pressure on Apple to settle the matter quickly.

At the same time, Proview also likely needs this dispute resolved quickly, given its current financial situation. According to Reuters, Proview will be de-listed by the Hong Kong stock exchange this summer unless it comes up with a viable plan to deal with its debt. Going after Apple would appear to be its strategy for dealing with its current debt load.

As an outsider looking in on this dispute, it seems highly likely to me that a settlement in this matter will be reached at some point this year, since Apple stands to lose a significant amount of money in sales if its supply chain is disrupted and Proview is reported to be desperate for cash. The primary impediment to settlement is likely to be emerely the amount of money on the table, since Proview requires a certain amount of money as a business necessity to get out of its current financial problems and a settlement for less than that amount will not resolve its problems. Of course, if Proview is in such dire straits, Apple may be able to just drag out the dispute until Proview runs out of money; however, whether or not that makes sense as a legal strategy depends on how much money Apple is losing by not resolving the dispute. Thus, as with most things in business, reaching an agreement is all about the bottom-line.

What can be taken away from these recent developments in this dispute? Well, this story is full of lessons for Silicon Valley businesses, some of which I've raised in my prior blog posting regarding this matter. I think you can add to the list, though, tying up loose ends with your business before they cost you money. In my practice, I regularly work with start-ups who often neglect a long list of legal matters in their early years in order to keep expenses at a minimum, and they often what I would call "loose ends" that I identify for them as matters that might need to be "tied up" in order to avoid a dispute down the road. This is a good example of what can happen when a "loose end" for a business is left unaddressed--the other side can get into financial trouble and then the "loose end" may become a big headache for your business. When you identify loose ends, the temptation is always to let them slide because they aren't a problem for you at the moment, but you have to weigh that preference against the cost that the price of tying up the loose end goes up down the road. It is unclear at the moment on the outside as to what extent this dispute developed out of a "loose end" or what the exact facts are in this dispute, but in my role in advising clients, many disputes often do evolve this way and this is certainly an example of what can happen when the stakes go up for the other side.

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