A top Chinese official on Tuesday sided with a Chinese firm involved in a legal battle with Apple over the iPad trademark, suggesting the US giant could lose the right to use the iconic name in China.
Proview Technology, based in the southern city of Shenzhen, has been locked in a protracted legal battle with Apple over ownership of the Chinese rights to the "iPad" trademark, which both claim as their own.
"Currently, Shenzhen Proview is still the legitimate registered owner of the iPad trademark," Fu Shuangjian, deputy minister of the State Administration for Industry and Commerce, told reporters, according to an online transcript.
The Taiwanese affiliate of Proview Technology registered "iPad" as a trademark in several countries including China as early as 2000 -- years before Apple began selling its product.
The US titan subsequently bought the rights for global trademark -- including from the Taiwanese affiliate -- but Proview claims the deal did not include the rights for mainland China.
Last year, Apple took Proview to a Chinese court, claiming trademark infringement, but the court ruled the US company lacked "supporting facts and evidence" for its claim.
The US company is now appealing the case but debt-laden Proview, which makes computer monitors, has since filed trademark lawsuits against Apple in China and is also suing the technology giant in the United States.
Fu -- whose administration deals with IP infringement cases -- said that according to Chinese law, a trademark transfer must be approved by the Trademark Office. He implied that in this case, approval had not been given.
"Due to the huge impact of this case, the court's final ruling will directly affect ownership of the iPad trademark and Industrial and Commerce departments will carefully and properly handle the case," he said.
It is rare for a Chinese enterprise to accuse an overseas firm of trademark breaches -- although foreign companies frequently complain of intellectual property rights violations in China.
Apple is hugely popular in the Asian nation, where die-hard fans have been known to line up for days to get their hands on the latest offerings from the US giant.
As such, Greater China -- which includes Hong Kong and Taiwan -- has become Apple's fastest growing region, with revenue there second only to the United States.