A Chinese tech firm is seeking a ban on iPad shipments in China, potentially affecting the tablet’s availability worldwide and slowing Apple’s expansion.
Proview’s move is part of a long-running dispute with Apple over rights to the iPad name. The firm’s lawyers now say they are contacting Chinese officials to completely block iPad sales and exports in China, on the grounds that it owns the iPad trademark.
If Proview succeeds in banning the Cupertino, Calif.-based company’s popular tablet, it could affect iPad sales and availability worldwide. Apple manufactures most of its products in China, including the iPad, so shortages could result if the company can’t export the tablets out of the country.
The ban request comes as Apple prepares to release the highly anticipated iPad 3 in March. Apple products traditionally launch to long lines and high demand, and the company will end up disappointing hundreds of thousands of eager customers if its exports get hung up in China just as a new tablet model comes to market.
China also figures heavily in Apple’s global expansion plans, and represents an important market for the company. Apple launched the iPhone 4S in China last month, and is counting on its products being available there to gain a foothold in one of the world’s biggest markets.
Local Chinese media reports retailers already removed dozens of iPads from shelves in Shijiazhuang, south of Beijing, showing the proposed ban is already negatively affecting Apple’s sales there.
Boosting its presence in China is a key part of Apple’s plan to cut into Google Android’s dominance. Google renewed its China expansion efforts last month and plans to introduce new services this year calculated to avoid the censorship issues its search engine faces in the country.
Google’s plans to boost Android adoption in China puts more pressure on Apple to make a strong showing there and avoid the shortages and lost sales the ban will cause.
Last year, Proview won an initial judgment against Apple in a mainland Chinese court, while a court in Hong Kong sided with the iPad maker in the trademark dispute. Apple appealed the ruling, and Chinese courts expect to make a final decision on the matter on February 29.
Apple says Proview refuses to honor its previous agreement about use of the iPad name.
“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,” an Apple spokeswoman told Reuters.
As Apple seeks to grab a foothold in China and the world eagerly awaits the iPad 3, Proview’s proposed ban could hold the company back and give Android an edge in an important market.