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How can China ban iPads if it makes restaurants use them?

June 16, 2012: 11:21 AM ET

A local government's requirement adds a new twist to China's iPad trademark dispute

Proview's "iPad"

FORTUNE -- You have to wonder whether Proview Technology (Shenzhen) is as big a thorn in the Chinese government's side as it is in Apple's (AAPL).

As you may recall, the nearly-bankrupt electronics manufacturer succeeded in getting a court in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong to ban the sale of iPads on the strength of Proview's claim that although Apple in 2009 purchased what it thought were the worldwide rights to the iPad trademark from Proview International Holdings, the deal was invalid on mainland China because Proview (Shenzhen) was not represented.

As far as I know, the National People's Congress -- which governs all of China, not just Guangdong province -- has not commented on the provincial court's ruling. But Apple continues to manufacturer iPads by the millions, many of them in Shenzhen, one of Guangdong's largest cities. And in late March China's Quality Certification Center granted the new iPad compulsory certification, clearing it for release on the mainland despite the local ban.

Now the government of Hainan, an island province just across a narrow strait from Guangdong, has further complicated matters. It is requiring seafood restaurants in Sanya, a coastal resort city that draws tourists by the tens of thousands, to take food orders on iPads. The region was rocked by a price gouging scandal after the most recent Chinese New Year holiday, and the more-easily monitored iPads are part of the local government's solution to the problem.

How can China ban iPads on one side of the Qiongzhou Strait and require their use on the other?

It probably can't. Although a ruling on Apple's appeal of the original ban was due at the end of May, the Higher People's Court of Guangdong said last week that it won't issue one as long as the two sides are engaged in settlement talks.

But the two sides are reported to be far apart, and Apple -- one of China's largest foreign manufacturers -- shows no inclination to settle.

Which makes Proview a thorn in everybody's side.

Below the fold: For readers haven't been to Hainan recently, I've added a 2005 photo of Sanya Bay (via Wikipedia).

Sanya Bay. Click to enlarge. Photo: Alex Kwok

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Philip Elmer-Dewitt
Philip Elmer-DeWitt
Editor, Apple 2.0, Fortune

Philip Elmer-DeWitt has been following Apple since 1982, first for Time Magazine, and now on the Web for Fortune.com.

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