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Proview's Apple iPad rights war goes global, reaches ESSEX

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Failed Asian monitor biz Proview has filed an amended complaint to a US court against Apple, implicating a company registered in the UK and seeking to regain worldwide rights to the IPAD trademark.

The tweaked paperwork details further the alleged deception with which Apple and its fruity cohorts entered into in order to obtain the tablet name.

News first emerged that Proview had filed in a Santa Clara County court last week, with the firm apparently taking a new legal tack in alleging that Apple had deliberately set up the IPAD (IP Application Development) company with the purpose of “deceiving, misleading and coercing” it into giving up its trademark rights.

Now Proview appears to be stepping up its media campaign by issuing a lengthy press release and attaching the full amended court filing dated 27 February, which landed in our inbox overnight and details exactly what its beef is with Cupertino.

It specifically alleges fraud by intentional misrepresentation, fraud by concealment, fraudulent inducement and unfair competition.

The filing details how, in the early 2000s, Proview registered the trademark when it launched an all-in-one internet access terminal called the iPad in partnership with National Semiconductor.

It goes on to explain how Proview complained to the EU about Apple’s registration of the iPod trademark in 2005 given its similarity to the name, but was then forced to withdraw its complaint after “unrelenting legal threats” from Cupertino.

The juicy bit comes next, though, as the filing alleges that Apple “hatched a plan” to trick Proview into selling the trademark, because it was short on time and knew Proview wouldn’t sell the iPad mark given its previous legal bust-up with the shiny toy maker.

According to the amended filing, Cupertino allegedly plotted with intermediary Farncombe International and its MD Graham Robinson to create the IP Application Development (IPAD) company, with Robinson initially approaching Proview’s UK MD Timothy Lo under a false name, Jonathan Hargreaves.

During the course of negotiations with Proview, Robinson made multiple affirmative misrepresentations to Mr Lo as well as several material omissions. For example, Hargreaves (in reality, Robinson) repeatedly represented in writing that IPAD Ltd would not use the IPAD trademark to compete with Proview. In addition, "Hargreaves" affirmatively represented that IPAD Ltd was only interested in the IPAD trademark to use as an abbreviation for its own name - IP Application Development Limited. In response to Proview's direct questions about the nature of IPAD Ltd's business, "Hargreaves" (Robinson) gave intentionally evasive responses, claiming that it was "premature" to disclose the nature of his company's business and that, as a new company, it was "not yet ready to publicise what the company's business is.

The filing alleges that after first being rebuffed, Robinson then threatened legal action to cancel Proview’s trademarks, coercing the financially struggling firm into accepting the £35,000 he had previously offered. Proview alleged that soon after it had accepted the terms, IPAD Ltd transferred these to Apple for “token compensation”.

One month later, in January 2010, the iPad went on sale.

The filing has attached an email chain between Hargreaves – or Robinson, depending on whose version of the truth you believe – which appears pretty damning.

Other attached documents reveal that IPAD Ltd was registered to a residential address in Roydon, Essex – not really the sort of auspicious surroundings one would associate with a company about to sell its trademarks to Apple.

Proview is seeking an as yet unspecified amount in compensatory damages and disgorgement of Apple's profits from the "unfair competition".

For its part, Cupertino has been repeating the same statement it has been doling out for weeks now, that it bought the rights to the iPad trademark in 10 different countries but that Proview is not honouring the agreement and a court in Hong Kong has sided with it on the matter.

A couple of key questions obviously remain. Why isn’t Proview using this tactic in China, where it is instead alleging that Apple didn’t buy the trademark from the correct part of the company – Proview Shenzhen – and therefore is not entitled to use that brand name in the region.

Also, if Apple has evidence to prove that it owns the disputed trademark in China and across the globe and that Proview is lying, why hasn’t it produced it by now?

A Guangdong court will decide on Wednesday whether to uphold Apple’s appeal against an earlier ruling in Shenzhen in favour of Proview. ®

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