BEIJING – Apple asked Amazon.com to remove iPads from sale on its Chinese website, according to people familiar with the matter, marking the latest twist in an ongoing legal battle over the iPad name in the country.
The Cupertino, Calif., consumer electronics giant asked Amazon in China to stop selling iPads because it is not an authorized reseller, the people said. Amazon has since removed iPads offered by other resellers on its Chinese website as well.
The move came as local Chinese officials have been confiscating iPads from retailers in some parts of China, as a result of a trademark dispute between Apple and a Shenzhen, China-based subsidiary of Proview International Holdings that began about two years ago.
Though the people familiar with Apple's request said it was not related to an ongoing trademark suit between Apple and Proview, the move comes as the company's legal battle heats up. Apple has argued that it purchased the rights to the iPad name in 2009, while Proview has argued those rights did not include China.
Proview, which makes computer displays, was suspended from trading on the Hong Kong stock exchange in August 2010 after its chairman filed for bankruptcy. Proview bought the iPad name sometime before 2009. According to court documents, Proview later struck a deal to sell Apple the rights to the iPad name before it was officially announced.
In December, a local Chinese court, in a different lawsuit, dismissed Apple's claims that it owned the trademark for the "iPad" brand in mainland China, citing agreements with Proview. In its decision, the court said Apple lacked legal proof of its claims.
Earlier this month, Proview filed a temporary restraining order in a Shanghai court to stop the Apple from selling devices using the iPad name in mainland China, leading Chinese officials to confiscate iPads from some local shops.
Proview's successful efforts in China so far stand in stark contrast to a similar lawsuit with Apple in Hong Kong in July. In that suit, the High Court of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region ruled in Apple's favor, saying an earlier agreement between the two companies to allow Apple to use the name "iPad" was still valid.
In its decision, which had not been previously reported, the court said Proview had breached an earlier agreement to transfer the iPad name to Apple.
The court said Apple used a subsidiary called IP Application Development Ltd. to purchase the rights to use the iPad name in December 2009, roughly a month before Apple's tablet device was first unveiled. Following the release, Proview did not reassign the iPad name to Apple in China, according to the court document. Instead, Proview asked Apple to pay $10 million for the China trademark.
The court said, in its findings, that Proview, its subsidiaries and at least one other company had combined together "with the common intention of injuring Apple," by breaching the agreement over the iPad name. The court, calling the event a conspiracy, further said Proview had "attempted to exploit the situation as a business opportunity," by asking for money.
"It is accordingly important that [Apple] is able to secure and obtain the China trademarks," the court wrote in its decision.
Read more on Apple's ongoing trademark fights at The Wall Street Journal.