Yang Long-san (楊榮山), Apple’s nemesis in a battle over the iPad trademark in China, once strutted the expo halls with dreams of market dominance. His company, Proview (唯冠), may now be in ruins and his most valuable asset a disputed trademark, but those dreams remain intact.
“My biggest wish is to resolve all these frustrating problems and put them behind me,” Yang said in a recent telephone interview. “If we can resolve all the problems we have now and I have a chance to make a comeback, I’d still want to overtake my old competitors.”
Much of that will depend on whether he wins a long-running dispute over ownership of the trademark in China — Apple’s second-biggest market by revenue. Although a recent decision by the Shanghai district court to reject Proview’s demands that Apple stop selling the iPad was a setback for Proview, the case is still to be heard in the higher court in Guangdong Province tomorrow.
A decision against Apple there would set a precedent that would create an uphill battle in other cases in lower courts around China. Local media have said Proview is seeking up to 10 billion yuan (US$1.6 billion) in compensation.
Proview’s fortunes may currently be the polar opposite of Apple — one has creditors at the door and the other is the world’s most valuable listed company — but both illustrate how the fickle world of technology can make or break a company.
Yang and Proview rode the first wave, when every home and office desk had to have a computer and a screen. For Apple, the last decade has seen it ride the crest of a new wave where the computer moved from a commoditized, clunky desktop to a fashionable mobile consumer device.
Proview may now be a shadow of a company, trying to convert its last major asset into cash, but it was not always so.
“They definitely existed,” said IHS analyst Rhoda Alexander, who covered the firm for a while. “They were a significant manufacturer and a major player.”
Yang and the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs were born just a year apart — Jobs in 1955, Yang a year later. An engineer by training, Yang worked in the electronics industry before founding Proview in 1989 in Taipei. At that time, a Jobs-less Apple was struggling for direction: That year it released the bulky, overpriced Macintosh Portable to underwhelming reviews.
Yang, meanwhile, was building a strong brand in the cutthroat computer display business: Within a decade of its founding, Proview had nearly 4 percent of the older-style cathode ray tube (CRT) monitor market and 12 percent of the newer, flat-screen LCD market.
This was the era of the desktop computer: In 1990, according to eTForecasts data, fewer than 22 million desktops were sold. By 2000, there were 98 million.
However, Yang’s plans were bigger.
While Proview had become a respected, albeit second or third-tier brand for computer monitors, he wanted more.
“He was very suave, very bright, very international,” an analyst who met him at a computer conference in the mid-1990s said. “He had an angle ... he knew everything about the world.”
In 1997, Proview International Holdings Ltd (唯冠國際), the parent of units including Proview in Shenzhen and Taipei, became the first Taiwanese technology firm to list in Hong Kong; in 1999, it announced a deal with National Semiconductor Corp to build an Internet-access device it called the iPAD (Internet Personal Access Device).