Did Tim Cook personally take a $60 million bullet for Apple?

Trademark case over iPad name in China sparks rumors that Cook personally paid settlement

The storyline involving Apple's efforts to strong-arm rights to the iPad trademark in China from a small company went pretty much as expected: 1. Giant technology firm quietly buys rights in 2009 to iPad trademark (in somewhat sneaky fashion) for $55,000 from tiny Chinese company that registered trademark in 2001 for a tablet which ultimately bombed. 2. Giant technology firm gets ready to launch tablet in huge market, but tiny Chinese company insists it still has rights to iPad trademark because the giant technology firm screwed up by buying said rights from a Taiwanese subsidiary of the tiny Chinese company, thus rendering the deal invalid. Oops. 3. Tiny Chinese company reportedly offers to sell iPad trademark rights to giant technology firm for $10 million. Giant technology firm scoffs and goes into bully mode, filing lawsuits to assert its trademark "rights." 4. Giant technology firm loses trademark lawsuits. 5. Giant technology firm remains in bully mode, threatens lawsuit against tiny Chinese company for "defamation" -- i.e. asserting its trademark ownership rights. 6. Giant technology firm ultimately -- and to the surprise of no one -- acquires iPad trademark in settlement for six times what tiny (and near-bankrupt) Chinese firm reportedly offered to sell it for two years ago. Pretty standard, right? Except for this interesting coda: Proview executives and attorneys believe the $60 million settlement came directly out of pocket of Apple CEO Tim Cook. From IDG News Service:

[Proview CEO Yang Rongsha] has suggested controversially that Apple boss Tim Cook cracked open his own wallet to find the money.

Yang's conclusions, as reported in IT Times Chinese language, relate to Cook's decision in May to turn down potential share dividend earnings of $75m, a figure that he says is "very close with the compensation Apple would pay for Proview."

Proview legal representative Ray Mai backed up his CEO ... arguing that the Proview case had been mishandled by Apple management, and that it was only right that the financial penalty should fall on management rather than shareholders.

"Since Steve Jobs was gone, Cook should take up the responsibility," said Mai.

This clearly is speculation on the part of the Proview people. They're inferring based on two sums that actually aren't "very close." (If I offered your choice between $60 million and $75 million, are you going to say, "It doesn't matter, the numbers are so close." They're not; the latter is 25% more than the former.) As evidence, it doesn't get much flimsier. But I must say, I really Iike the idea of CEOs taking personal and financial responsibility for the screw-ups of their company, instead of the usual finger-pointing, buck-passing and scapegoating. Maybe even just the rumor of Cook -- who, after all, is chief executive of the most successful technology firm in the world -- paying out of his own hide to cover the cost of Apple's blunder will embolden other CEOs to step up and be accountable, no matter what the consequences to their net worth! To show what kind of responsible and selfless leaders they really are! Sure, like that's going to happen.

Chris Nerney writes ITworld's Tech Business Today blog. Follow Chris on Twitter at @ChrisNerney. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.

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