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New patent acquired by Apple poses risk to local laptop makers: MOEA

The Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA) yesterday cautioned local companies that Apple has acquired a new design patent — the broadest to date — covering the “the verge” and “wedge shape” of its MacBook Air. The patent, obtained in the U.S. on June 5, may threaten companies producing laptops with similar designs.

Any product which features the design of the wedge shape and smooth verges may be pursued by Apple in the U.S., regardless of the side and rear design of the device, or what it looks like while open, said Intellectual Property Office Director-General Wang Mei-hua (王美花).

According to the office, because this design patent is an extension of a previous Apple patent filed on Nov. 17, 2009 the period of the new design patent is from 2009 to 2023.

Citing recent legal disputes between Taiwan-based smartphone maker HTC Corp. and Apple, Wang said that local laptop producers need to be cautious about this patent and should avoid similar designs. Otherwise, she said, they must prepare for the worst case scenario — a lawsuit with Apple and a possible ban from entering the U.S. market.

Recently, the U.S. court turned down Apple's request to suspend HTC cellphones from entering the U.S. market before the settlement of a property rights lawsuit. The court ruled that the U.S. phone market is a diverse one and thus Apple's revenue is not likely to be significantly affected by products from one single brand entering the market, said Wang.

For tablets, however, the U.S. court ruled that the Galaxy Tab 10 produced by Samsung cannot enter the market because of the lack of diversity among tablet makers, according to the director general.

Whether laptops would be allowed to enter the U.S. may be subject to the U.S. court's judgment, said Wang.

Under U.S. law, companies with different opinions concerning patents can request the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to ask the bureau to reconsider the patent application.

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