Fight Over iPad Name Spills Into U.S. Court


By Ian Sherr and Spencer E. Ante

Proview Electronics Co. has taken its legal battles with Apple Inc. to a U.S. court, claiming the iPhone maker used deception in buying the iPad trademark and shouldn’t be allowed to keep it.

The lawsuit, which was filed in the Superior Court of the State of California in Santa Clara County on Feb. 17 but previously unreported, claimed that Apple had committed fraud when it used a company set up by one of its law firms, called IP Application Development Ltd., to purchase the iPad trademark from Proview on Dec. 23, 2009 for 35,000 British pounds ($55,000).

Proview, which included U.S.-based Proview Technology Inc. as a plaintiff in the case, said in its filing that by acquiring the iPad trademark through IP Application Development, and not explaining its true purpose, Apple acted “with oppression, fraud and/or malice.”

An Apple spokeswoman reiterated the company’s claim that it had rightfully purchased the iPad name from Proview, adding “Proview refuses to honor their agreement with Apple in China, and a Hong Kong court has sided with Apple in this matter.” A Proview spokesperson declined to comment.

Part of the reason for the case, people familiar with the matter said, was that during negotiations between the two companies, Apple hadn’t shared enough information about how it planned to acquire the trademark and who approved the purchase.

In emails seen by The Wall Street Journal, a representative purportedly of IP Application Development told Proview that it wanted to acquire the iPad name because it was an abbreviation of its company’s title, and that its future products wouldn’t compete with Proview’s products.

To read the rest of the story, either contact me directly or read more online at the WSJ: here. (subscription required)


(Published Feb 24, 2012, on The Wall Street Journal website.)

Price of the iPad Name: $55,000 to $2 Billion


By Ian Sherr

What’s in a name like iPad?

Apple Inc. agreed to pay Proview International Holdings Ltd. £35,000 ($55,494 at current exchange rates) for the iPad trademark, according to a cache of documents that includes emails and a contract detailing an agreement between the two companies.

The newly unearthed documents come as Apple has been battling Proview over whether it purchased rights to the iPad name from Proview in 2009—a key issue in a dispute between the companies.

Proview defended its claims to the trademark in China, and suggested on Friday that the company could be due as much as $2 billion from Apple.

A Hong Kong court sided with Apple last year, saying the agreement between Proview and an Apple subsidiary was valid. But a court in mainland China threw out Apple’s case.

Proview, a computer display manufacturer that filed for bankruptcy, claims it has the exclusive rights to the iPad name in China and has sought injunctions against the import or export of Apple’s tablet device. A ban on the iPad’s export from China could have wide-ranging implications for Apple, which relies on manufacturers in the country to make many of the devices it sells around the globe.

Proview earlier this month attempted to bar the sale of iPads within China through a complaint filed with a Shanghai court, alleging that an earlier deal with Apple for the iPad trademark didn’t include the China market.

To read the rest of the story, either contact me directly or read more online at the WSJ: here. (subscription required)

(Published Feb 19, 2012, on The Wall Street Journal website.)

Take Zap! Tech Geeks, Starved for More Battery Power, Give Themselves a Charge


By Geoffrey A. Fowler and Ian Sherr


Any geek can tell you that battery life hasn’t kept up with gadget innovations. But not to worry: Inventors are figuring out how to turn geeks into batteries.

While most gadget lovers hunt for empty wall sockets to charge their devices, Kevin Bartholomew just plugs his cellphone into his hip. That is where he keeps a nine-inch device looped around his belt that converts the kinetic energy of his motion into enough power to keep his devices running.

Mr. Bartholomew’s tube-shaped personal energy generator, called the nPower PEG, can turn 15 minutes of walking into a minute of phone talk time.

It is a good alternative to finding a plug, depending on how much exercise you get, says the 31-year-old electrical engineer from Logan, Utah.

The latest in body-powered technology includes gizmos that absorb excess energy produced by motion, like the jiggle of a backpack or bend of a knee. There are T-shirts that capture the electricity in sound waves, boots that convert walking into energy and solar panels that attach to everything from pants to bikes.

A tech truism called Moore’s Law holds that computing power will grow exponentially, as transistors get smaller. But it doesn’t apply to batteries. Apple Inc.’s latest iPhone 4S comes with eight hours of talking time—exactly as much as the original iPhone model that came out in 2007.

The battery deficit has created a market opportunity for companies like Goal Zero, of Salt Lake City. It first started making personal-size solar panels in 2007 for cellphones in Africa, but found a need among gadget addicts closer to home, says President Joe Atkin. Last year, he sold some 200,000 foldable 14-inch solar chargers. “It is about freedom,” says Mr. Atkin.

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(Published Feb 7, 2012, in The Wall Street Journal.)

Apple Asked Standards Body to Set Rules for Essential Patents


By Ian Sherr

SAN FRANCISCO—Apple Inc. has asked a telecommunications standards body to set basic principles governing how member companies license their patents, an increasingly contentious topic for rivals in the smartphone industry.

In a letter to the European Telecommunications Standards Institute, Apple said the telecommunications industry lacks consistent licensing schemes for the many patents necessary to make mobile devices, and offered suggestions for setting appropriate royalty rates that all members would follow.

Many mobile technology companies, such as Motorola Mobility Holdings Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd., hold patents that became part of industrywide standards. Standards bodies often require the patent holders to offer to license their patents to any company on a basis known as Frand, or fair, reasonable and nondiscriminatory. Questions about such commitments have arisen amid a flurry of patent suits between rivals in the mobile-device market.

Apple said in its letter—which was dated Nov. 11 but not previously disclosed—that the lack of clarity on what is fair, reasonable and nondiscriminatory has led many companies to ask unusually high rates and sue one another, claiming they infringed on one another’s patents.

“It is apparent that our industry suffers from a lack of consistent adherence to Frand principles in the cellular standards arena,” wrote Bruce Watrous, Apple’s intellectual property head.

Apple’s move to solidify how industry-essential patent holders should act comes at a tumultuous time. The Cupertino, Calif., company has been battling rivals such as Samsung, Motorola and HTC Corp. in patent suits spanning courtrooms across the globe.

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(Published Feb 7, 2012, on The Wall Street Journal website.)

Blue Bottle Aims to Blend Slow Coffee, Fast Growth


By Ian Sherr

In an era of fast-food cappuccinos and drive-through coffee shops, Blue Bottle Coffee Co. is banking on slowing things down to help itself grow.

Since the Oakland-based coffee company’s founding in 2002, its revenue has jumped an average of about 50% annually to between $15 million and $20 million last year, according to James Freeman, founder and chief executive. As the company continues to expand—with plans to enter Manhattan in the next month of so—Blue Bottle could have more than 200 employees by the end of this year, up from about 70 two years ago.

Blue Bottle’s concept is slow coffee, an unusual offering in today’s coffee-retail industry. Brewing a cup of Blue Bottle coffee is a laborious process that can take up to five minutes, including the time it takes a barista to grind the beans and pour the grounds into a filter suspended above a cup before water is added on top.

The process takes substantially more time than it does to get a typical cup of coffee from shops like Starbucks, raising questions about how many customers would be willing to wait for a cup of joe from Blue Bottle and whether they can taste the difference.

But so far, this slow style—which Mr. Freeman says has become popular in Britain in recent years—has helped Blue Bottle and rival Bay Area practitioners of the art, like Ritual Coffee Roasters, develop a devoted customer base.

“It’s really excellent” coffee, says Jayn Pettingill, a local 48-year-old musician and music librarian. She says she buys only Blue Bottle beans for coffee at home because the company delivers the most consistent good taste she can find.

Still, Blue Bottle faces the usual limitations of an artisan food business. Its coffee is pricey, with a standard 12-ounce cup costing about a dollar more than the roughly $1.65 charged at Starbucks.

To read the rest of the story, either contact me directly or read more online at the WSJ: here. (subscription required)

(Published Feb 2, 2012, in The Wall Street Journal.)