And You Thought You Knew What an iPad Looks Like

I bet you think you know what an iPad looks like. If asked, you'd probably describe it as a small flat tablet computer boasting a 9.7-inch display and sporting an Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) logo on its back. Wrong.

It actually looks a lot like an entirely different Apple product: the original iMac.

The year was 1998, shortly after Steve Jobs' return to Apple. One of the first eye-catching products that Jobs and design guru Jony Ive came up with was the iMac all-in-one, which continues to be among Apple's primary product lines.

Source: EveryMac.com.

Source: EveryMac.com.

Having competitors copy Apple's innovative design is hardly a new phenomenon, and a small Chinese computer maker named Proview took note of the iMac's style and decided to respond in kind, even down to the carrying handle on top of the machine. Thus, the "Internet Personal Access Device," or iPAD, was born.

Source: Proview.

Source: Proview.

The company has said it spent $30 million developing the iPAD and produced between 10,000 and 20,000 units between 1998 and 2009, when Apple bought the trademark from a Proview subsidiary through a shell company for roughly $55,000 in anticipation of its own iPad tablet. Proview is now disputing the trademark's ownership and wants even more dollars, with demands as high as $2 billion, or more than 36,000 times the original amount.

Proview is in bankruptcy, hoping that scoring some of the Mac maker's money will help it pay off some of its creditors. It alleges that the subsidiary that sold the moniker didn't have the full rights to the name.

The company is going for the jugular with its attack, requesting a ban of imports and exports across China's borders, which has the potential to cripple Apple's supply chain as iPads are assembled in the country. Various courts are going back and forth, with some siding with Apple while others have Proview's back; much of this case is still up in the air, complete with appeals on both sides.

The iPad isn't the only offering to have faced trademark hurdles. The iPhone and iOS names, which are now largely associated with Cupertino, originally belonged to Cisco Systems (Nasdaq: CSCO  ) . The two tech giants settled long ago over both names. It also bought the FaceTime name for its video-calling service from a security software company of the same name, which has since changed its name to Actiance.

This iPAD trademark dispute isn't Apple's first, and it certainly won't be its last.

Add Apple to your Watchlist to see how this trademark dispute pans out. While you're at it, don't forget to check out this new special free report on a handful of component suppliers that are cashing in on the iPhone's rise.

Fool contributor Evan Niu owns shares of Apple, but he holds no other position in any company mentioned. Check out his holdings and a short bio. The Motley Fool owns shares of Cisco Systems and Apple. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Apple and Cisco Systems and creating a bull call spread position in Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On February 22, 2012, at 1:30 AM, jdwelch62 wrote:

    Wow. $55K for a product name that in less than 2 years has become iconic in its own right? That's cheap. Considering the Chinese govt's track record WRT western IP, perhaps Tim Cook & his lawyers might decide to haggle-and-settle, then this will be just another interesting footnote in AAPL's "checkered" history over branding. (Remember The Beatle's Apple Records?)

    Interesting. Please keep us posted as the story pans out, Evan...

  • Report this Comment On February 22, 2012, at 3:13 AM, mike2153 wrote:

    Screw 'em. Don't pay ransom. If the Chinese courts say the other company owns "iPad", just re-brand it "jPad" - (copyright applied for). I'll give you a much better deal than those idiots.

  • Report this Comment On February 22, 2012, at 11:33 AM, lucasmonger wrote:

    A real "screw-em" move would be for Apple to stop manufacturing iPads altogether in China and move manufacturing to other countries. It might take some time to pull off, but pausing iPad sales might even cause WW III with people throwing more than just eggs as with the iPhone 4S intro in China.

    It's pretty crummy that Proview sold the name to another shell company, then comes back to demand more when they find out that shell company was indeed Apple. It's like selling your used car to a person, then suing to try to get more money once you discover buyer is a billionaire.

  • Report this Comment On February 22, 2012, at 2:03 PM, rfaramir wrote:

    Proview has recently 'surprisingly' taken a more conciliatory tone, indicating they are willing to settle.

    I'm certain this has nothing to do with Apple's threatened defamation lawsuit, which if Proview loses, could result in the Death Penalty in China.

    Glad to see Apple playing hardball.

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