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Apple vs Proview, the War Behind the Battle

Mar 6, 2012 | By:

The battle now being waged in Chinese courts by a near bankrupt Hong Kong company and the most valuable enterprise in the world has been spreading like wild fire in the Chinese blogosphere with folks from all walks of life expressing their views over this unraveling saga.  What makes this case interesting is that not only will the outcome impact the fate of a now global brand and franchise, but it has also fueled a national debate on IP rights by Chinese consumers who have traditionally held a relatively agnostic view of brand and IP protection.

Rifling through the millions of posts and reposts on Sina Weibo (the Chinese equivalent of Twitter), it dawned on me that regardless of who wins this battle, the real war being waged has nothing to do with Proview or Apple.  To get a better understanding of the “War behind the Battle”, let me share with you some (roughly translated and often paraphrased) comments highlighting the various views in this colossal blog-a-war.

The Consumer

“David vs Goliath?  Or just perverting the justice of the trademark law to scam a buck?  Do consumers need to be even more careful when buying branded products?  Are we to let brand squatters/counterfeiters continue with their lawless behavior?” - posted by “Zhang Xiao Lei” from Dong Guan.

“From iPad trademark case to Jordan and Hermes, how many more squatters/counterfeiters are out there?  How many more are cheating us out of our money?” - posted by “Happy Little Fish” from Guang Zhou.

Most Chinese consumers have grown accustomed to the thriving eco-system of brand squatters and counterfeit manufacturers whose primary business model is capitalizing on success brands by registering the local trademarks (or the Chinese phonetic equivalent) of successful global brands or blatantly counterfeiting branded products.  This practice has been so prevalent that the Chinese have coined the term “Shanzai” to describe it.

In recent years however, China’s ascension to a leading global force in trade has driven significant increases to the disposable incomes of Chinese consumer, making them powerful proponents for change in the area of consumer and brand protection.  For example, who wants to buy  a RMB20,000 Louis Vuitton handbag when an exact replica can be bought for RMB200 at the local counterfeit market? The answer used to be “everyone”, now the higher income bracket consumers in China are starting to desire and demand authentic goods. Having authentic brand goods is seen as a status symbol in a land flooded with fakes.

The Patriot

“Apple must have bribed someone to force Proview into bankruptcy and terminate this case.  If not, why would creditors force Proview into bankruptcy now instead of waiting for a big pay-out from Apple?  Want to know the truth?  My view is that Proview invented and own the iPad brand and trademark.  Apple’s purchase of the trademark for such a low price may be legal, but not reasonable.” posted by “Another dumb kid”, from Beijing.

The Opportunist

“The iPad trademark battle has flowed over into the iPhone brand.  A manufacturer of Light Fittings in ZheJiang province has just hired a trademark agency to apply for the iPhone trademark for their product category.  If successful, we’ll be seeing iPhone branded lamps.” - posted by “Golden Eagle 955 TV station”, from Changsha.

Like moths to a candle, the opportunists continue to flock towards the hope of easy money by squatting ever more trademarks for any brand that’s worth a pint.  The publicity that the iPad trademark case has brought has simply added fuel to the flames.

The War Behind the Battle

The battle for the iPad brand is simply a side-show, the outcome of this legal case, regardless of the winner is insignificant in contrast to the storm of awareness and debate that has been generated amongst the Chinese population.  This case has created a platform via which ordinary Chinese people, regardless of their ideologies or motives have been voicing their view points, and generating attention to the topic of IP rights on a massive scale within the country.

Starring a (semi) local Chinese company that has portrayed themselves as an underdog, pitted against a foreign brand that many Chinese people have grown to love and trust, this drama has done more to further the Chinese people’s understanding on the importance of trademark and IP/brand protection than any amount of lobbying by western governments/enterprises; or advocacy initiatives by organizations such as the BSA (Business Software Alliance) could ever have hoped to achieve.

Though some would see Proview’s lawsuit against Apples as a blatantly opportunistic maneuver by a desperate firm, we should all be thanking Proview for the quantum leap in brand and IP rights advocacy that has been achieved as a result of their actions.

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