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Call to protect trademarks abroad

By Zhang Yan  (China Daily)

15:25, July 15, 2013

Domestic companies are encouraged to better protect their brands overseas and fight against malicious registration of their time-honored trademarks, according to a senior judge and experts.

"(Some overseas companies or individuals) make use of foreign laws to maliciously register well-known Chinese trademarks in foreign countries," said Lang Guimei, a senior judge from the intellectual property tribunal under the Supreme People's Court. "We should be better aware of that."

Figures from the State Administration for Industry and Commerce show that more than 2,000 such cases had occurred between 1980 and 2009, causing an estimated annual economic loss of 1 billion yuan ($163 million).

The administration estimated that about 15 percent of time-honored Chinese brands have been maliciously registered overseas, according to an article published on its website earlier this year.

With more Chinese companies going global in recent years, the conflicts are becoming fiercer. "The priority (of these companies) is to apply and register their trademarks overseas as soon as possible to prevent infringement," said Lang.

"If domestic enterprises want to expand overseas and build their brands into international ones, they must enhance their awareness of trademark protection as many transnational companies do."

Lang said some big brands, such as Coca-Cola, McDonald's and Omega, have applied for trademark registration in about 150 countries, and Panasonic has been registered by the company in about 180 countries and regions.

In recent years, Chinese companies suffering from malicious trademark registration have filed lawsuits overseas to protect themselves, and some of them have succeeded in reclaiming their brands.

In 2009, for example, Germany's Munich High Court ruled that the Germany OKAI Import and Export Co must suspend using the trademark of Wangzhihe, a well-known Chinese brand of fermented bean curd and condiments.

The court also removed the company's registered trademark in Germany, which ended a four-year lawsuit.

Wang Jiahuai, general manager of the Wangzhihe Group, said, "Chinese enterprises should have the awareness of registering their trademarks, patents and other intellectual properties abroad.

"Moreover, once discovering your trademarks have been illegally registered overseas, the companies involved should dare to use legal weapons to safeguard their legitimate rights."

Li Weihua, a professor specializing in intellectual property rights at Shanghai University, said China has joined some international conventions to actively protect Chinese companies' IPs overseas.

In 1989, China joined the Madrid Agreement, which concerns international registration of trademarks, and in 1995 joined the Madrid Protocols. At present, there are a total of 80 member countries covered by the Madrid system, including almost all China's main trading partners, he said.

Under the Madrid system, Chinese enterprises can apply to the International Intellectual Property Organization for trademark registration abroad.

Li also suggested Chinese enterprises entrust overseas law firms with the monitoring of malicious trademark registration. Once an infringement is found, Chinese companies should be confident when filing lawsuits abroad, he said.

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