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Wednesday, February 15, 2012, 12:09 am PT (03:09 am ET)

Chinese customs officials say import, export ban on iPad would be 'difficult'

Chinese customs authorities have indicated to Proview, the Chinese company that is locked with Apple over the iPad trademark in the country, that a ban on the importation and exportation of Apple's touchscreen tablet would be "difficult to implement" because of the popularity of the device in the region.

Proview Technology (Shenzhen) chairman Yang Long-san told Reuters on Wednesday that Chinese consumers' love of Apple products and the size of the market would make such a ban unwieldy. Lawyers for the company said on Tuesday that they had filed requests to block imports and exports of the iPad, a move that could grind worldwide sales of the device to a halt.

"The customs have told us that it will be difficult to implement a ban because many Chinese consumers love Apple products. The sheer size of the market is very big," Yang said.

He added that the company has applied to "some local customs" for the ban, but the local departments will need to report to their headquarters in Beijing.

Proview sued Apple over the iPad trademark in China last year, and Apple has had little success in fighting back. The iPad maker believes that it purchased the rights to the trademark in China years ago through a deal with Proview's Taiwanese division.

“We bought Proview’s world-wide rights to the iPad trademark in 10 different countries several years ago,” Apple spokeswoman Carolyn Wu said this week. “Proview refuses to honor their agreement with Apple in China.”

Proview has responded with a complicated argument asserting that a subsidiary in Shenzhen owned the China rights and was not present at the negotiations.

Proview


Yang went on to hint that an out-of-court settlement would be the best way to resolve the disagreement. However, Xie Xianghui, a lawyer for Proview, indicated earlier this week that the company had yet to make any proposals to Apple.

"We are now focusing our work on upholding rights and haven't made negotiation proposals to Apple yet. As for the reasons, you should ask Apple," said Xie.

The New York Times suggested on Tuesday that the threat of an import/export ban and recent seizures of iPad units in smaller Chinese cities can be taken as warnings from Proview of the "havoc it could wreak" should Apple continue to fight this legal battle. If that is indeed the case, then Yang's mention of an out-of-court settlement may be a public attempt by the company to bring Apple to the negotiating table.

Officials from China's Administration of Industry and Commerce seized 45 iPad units last week in Shijiazhuang, Hebei. Authorities in Xuzhou, a small city in Jiangsu Province, confiscated devices earlier this week, according to another Proview lawyer. Several Chinese retailers, including Amazon China, also appear to have halted sales of the iPad online, according to local magazine The Beijinger.


Chinese officials inspect iPad 2 units after confiscating them. | Credit: Hebei Youth Daily


A settlement from Apple could help Proview International Holdings, the parent company of Proview Technology (Shenzhen), reverse its current fate. The company is in danger of being de-listed from the Hong Kong stock exchange and has run into financial trouble in recent years.