Is Apple going 'thermonuclear war' in iPad China trademark battle?

Cupertino's threat of defamation lawsuit against Proview smacks of legal bullying

There's an old business axiom that the side with the most lawyers wins. I believe that's generally true, though I'd throw "most expensive" into the mix.

Apple has both in its legal battle with the small Chinese company that claims it has the trademark rights to the iPad name in China and wants Apple to stop selling its popular tablet device on the mainland.

On Friday, Proview was successful in persuading a court to order an electronics retailer in the city of Huizhou to halt sales of Apple's iPad.

But on Monday, Apple upped the ante, threatening to crush sue Proview for defamation.

From IDG News Service:

On Monday, Apple sent a letter to Chinese display vendor Proview, demanding its founder Yang Rongshan cease releasing what it said was false information to the media. Apple then warned it would sue for damages caused by "defamatory statements."

"It is inappropriate to release information contrary to the facts to the media, especially when such disclosures have the effect of wrongfully causing damage to Apple's reputation," said the letter, which was provided by a person familiar with the matter.

The ongoing legal battle involves ownership of the iPad trademark in mainland China, a potentially lucrative market for Apple. Cupertino claims Proview sold its rights to the iPad trademark in 2009, but Proview insists the trademark actually was "sold" by a subsidiary in Taiwan with no authority to conduct the transaction. Therefore, Proview argues, it retains the iPad trademark for China.

Apple counters that Proview founder Yang Rongshan was well aware of the trademark negotiations, claiming to have emails proving it.

Just as the late Steve Jobs was prepared to go "thermonuclear war" against Google for allegedly ripping off the iPhone with its Android mobile OS, Apple appears willing to unleash the legal hounds of hell on a relatively defenseless target.

If Apple indeed has a strong case against Proview, though, it should let the legal process take its course. Threatening a defamation lawsuit really just seems like bullying. Nothing Yang says about Apple or the iPad trademark will tangibly hurt the company in the China market. If people in China like the iPad, they'll buy it.

In fact, they'll buy it no matter what it's called. Still, Apple has invested a lot in the iPad brand, so its desire to have the trademark rights for such a potentially lucrative market is eminently understandable. Plus all those lawyers need something to do.

If Apple truly is concerned about its reputation in China, maybe it should dispense with the defamation-lawsuit threats against a company in bankruptcy and just buy the iPad trademark outright. Proview reportedly offered in 2010 to sell it to Apple for $10 million. To a multinational corporation with nearly $100 billion in cash on hand, that's parking-lot change.

But Apple seems to prefer thermonuclear war.

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