How Apple snookered Proview to get the iPad trademark

Fresh details of the subterfuge emerge in a U.S. lawsuit. Apple doesn’t deny any of it.

Steve Jobs unveils the iPad. Image: Apple Inc.

Here’s how Apple (AAPL) allegedly got Proview International Holdings to sell them the iPad trademark 35 days before Steve Jobs unveiled the device at a San Francisco press conference.

  • Apple hired a British firm called Farncombe International and its managing director, Graham Robinson, to be its secret agent.
  • Robinson created a British shell company called IP Application Development Limited (“IPAD Ltd.”).
  • Using the alias Jonathan Hargreaves, Robinson opened talks in Taiwan with Proview, concealing the fact that he was negotiating on Apple’s behalf.
  • Asked why he wanted the trademark, Robinson said it was an acronym for IP Application Development.
  • Asked what business IPAD Ltd. was in, Robinson was evasive:  “I’m sure you can understand that we are not ready to publicize what the company’s business is,” he said, “since we have not yet made any public announcements.”
  • He further stated, apparently in an e-mail, that “the company will not compete with Proview.”

These details — some familiar, some fresh — come from a Proview press release issued Monday. It describes an amended complaint filed in a California federal court that is charging Apple with “fraud by intentional misrepresentation, fraud by concealment, fraudulent inducement, and unfair competition.”

Reached for comment, Apple denied none of the details in the complaint. Rather, it issued the same statement it’s been giving out for nearly a week:

“We bought Proview’s worldwide rights to the iPad trademark in 10 different countries several years ago. Proview refuses to honor their agreement with Apple in China and a Hong Kong court has sided with Apple in this matter. Our case is still pending in mainland China.”

The irony is that Proview is trying to get a U.S. court to nullify an agreement that it claims in Chinese courts never existed — namely the one that Apple says sold them the rights to the iPad trademark in mainland China.

Proview’s press release has answer for that:

“The legal questions and remedies in the China and U.S. lawsuits are separate and distinct and have no bearing on one another.”

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