The Many Faces of iPad: Fujitsu & STMicro Take on Apple

Apple is in danger of being made subject of a lawsuit by Japan’s Fujitsu and European chipmaker STMicroelectronics, in the wake of Apple’s adoption of the name “iPad” for its latest tablet PC eye candy. “iPad” has been a registered trademark by STMicro since 2000 for its semiconductor technology. For Fujitsu’s part, it is claiming that it created a palmtop computer of the same name, launched internally for use by its shop assistants beginning 2002. At present, Fujitsu has a pending application for the use of the trademark.

There are other companies that hold rights to use “iPad” as a trademark for products under certain categories, including Siemens for engines and motors, and Coconut Grove Pads for padded bras. These trademark infringement issues bring us back to 2007, when Apple introduced the iPhone to the public. This caused Cisco—registered owner of the name—to go to the courts. The matter was later settled when the contenders agreed to own the name jointly, for undisclosed terms.

Asked what STMicro intends to do, its representative said they were studying their options. Fujitsu’s official statement said: “[The company] is aware of Apple’s iPad announcement and the possible infringement on our trademark . . . We are currently discussing our options with our trademark counsel and have no further comment at this time.”

Trademark disputes – especially those that involve brand giants like Apple and Fujitsu or Cisco – are usually not enough to hinder the infringing company from launching the product, or to compel it to rebrand. However, if Apple loses its bid for “iPad” and Fujitsu is allowed to continue its application, or if Apple fails to justify that the two products are not confusingly similar, it will have no recourse but to buy the rights from Fujitsu.

The iPad Comparisons

Fujitsu’s iPad is a gadget that has a 3.5-inch screen, powered by an Intel processor, uses a Microsoft OS, and is Wi-fi and Bluetooth-enabled. Its purpose is to connect shop assistants and managers to sales and stock data. STMicro’s iPad, on the other hand, is less similar. “iPad” is an acronym for “integrated passive and active devices,” referring to the technology that used to manufacture semiconductors. But here’s the caveat: STMicro’s products are used in cars, washing machines, smartphones and mobile phones, among other gadgets. The implication: STMicro’s iPad technology could someday be applied to handheld devices like Apple’s iPad.

Fujitsu’s prior application in the US is dated March 2003. It was suspended after the US Patent and Trademark Office found a prior filing by Mag-Tek for keypads used to enter personal identification numbers. The application was subsequently declared abandoned, but was revived by Fujitsu in June 2009. A month later, Apple sent its proxy to the patent and trademark office of Trinidad & Tobago to register “iPad” and secure a priority date that it can claim when it applies for registration in other parts of the world. In the last quarter of 2009, Apple requested the US PTO for more time to oppose Fujitsu’s application. February 28 is the deadline for Apple to decide if it will contest Fujitsu’s application or not.

In an interview with Bloomberg, Fujitsu’s trademark lawyer, Hanify & King’s Edward Pennington said:  “They probably need to talk to us and we haven’t had any direct communications with Apple,” and went on to describe Apple’s position as “awkward”.

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