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Well-Known Mark Recognitions in China – Part III

2021-03-18

Well-Known Mark Recognitions in China – Part III

by Yan Zhang, Feifei Bian & Austin Chang

In Part II of this series, we shared our representative cases on how to apply the concept of anti-dilution for the protection of a well-known trademark in administrative trademark litigations. In Part III, we selected our representative cases to further illustrate how the courts apply well-known mark recognition and extend the scope of protection for a well-known mark.

1. RITZ-CARLTON v. “LI SI KA ER DUN in Chinese”

Chengdu Zhi Zhi Real Estate Development Co., Ltd. (“Zhi Zhi”) applied for the “LI SI KA ER DUN in Chinese (丽思卡尔顿)” mark (“Disputed Mark”) with App. No. 5336988 in Class 36 for “commercial housing sales services; insurance; capital investment; art valuation; real estate agency; agency; guarantee; raise charitable funds; entrusted management; pawn shop” on May 9, 2006. The Disputed Mark was approved for registration on October 14, 2009.

Disputed Mark Cited Mark 1 Cited Mark 2

Ritz-Carlton owns prior registrations for the “RITZ-CARLTON” mark (“Cited Mark 1”)  and the “LI SI KA ER DUN in Chinese (丽思卡尔顿)” mark (“Cited Mark 2”) in Class 42 (Class 43) for “hotels; restaurants; barbeque restaurants; tea rooms; etc.”

Ritz-Carlton filed a dispute cancellation against the Disputed Mark on March 28, 2010 before the CNIPA (then the Trademark Review and Adjudication Board). The CNIPA issued a decision that maintained the Disputed Mark’s validity on August 29, 2011. Unsatisfied, Ritz-Carlton appealed to the Beijing First Intermediate Court.

On December 20, 2012, the Beijing First Intermediate Court reversed the CNIPA’s decision. Zhi Zhi was unsatisfied and appealed to the Beijing High Court. On July 31, 2013, the Beijing High Court, as the second instance court, issued the final decision that affirmed the Beijing First Intermediate Court’s decision against Zhi Zhi.

In this case, the Beijing High Court found that the Disputed Mark consisted of “LI SI KA ER DUN in Chinese (丽思卡尔顿)” and before the Disputed Mark’s application date, media and the Internet had widely adapted and used “LI SI KA ER DUN in Chinese (丽思卡尔顿)” to refer to RITZ-CARLTON. Ritz-Carlton submitted sufficient evidence during the administrative and judicial proceedings to prove that they had received great businesses in the hotel industry, received numerous awards, and attracted high levels of media’s attention before the Disputed Mark’s application date. Namely, before the Disputed Mark’s application date, “LI SI KA ER DUN in Chinese (丽思卡尔顿)” could often be seen on various newspapers and the Internet, and such constant media reports subjectively expanded the societal influence of the “LI SI KA ER DUN in Chinese (丽思卡尔顿)” brand, allowed Ritz-Carlton to enjoy high fame among the relevant public in China. Thus, the Disputed Mark constituted as a translation of “RITZ-CARLTON.” Consider the “RITZ-CARLTON” mark obtained relative high fame on hotel related services through uses and promotions, and the Disputed Mark’s approved services for “sales services for commercial real estate and real estate agency” were related to the hotel services, the Disputed Mark’s registration was likely to cause confusion to the public and damage Ritz-Carlton’s interests. The Beijing First Intermediate Court correctly recognized the “RITZ-CARLTON” mark as a well-known mark, based on the evidence submitted, to protect Ritz-Carlton’s trademark rights according to Article 13(2) of the 2001 Chinese Trademark Law (“TM Law”)  (Article 13(3) of the 2019 TM Law).

2. “YAHOO!” v. “YahaoSoft”

Beijing Jing San Pu Business Trading Co., Ltd. (“Jing San Pu”) applied for the “YaohaoSoft” mark (“Disputed Mark”) with App. No. 3610948 in Class 42 for “intellectual property supervision; computer leasing; computer programming; computer software coding; computer software maintenance; creation and maintenance of websites for others; hosting computer stations (websites); computer hardware consulting” on June 30, 2003. The Disputed Mark was published for opposition on May 28, 2005.

Disputed Mark Cited Mark

Yahoo! owns prior registrations for the “YAHOO!” mark (“Cited Mark”) in Class 42 for “computer service; namely: to query and retrieve the information used on the computer network.”

Yahoo! filed an opposition against the Disputed Mark with the CNIPA on December 1, 2009 and the CNIPA refused the Disputed Mark for registration. Jing San Pu appealed to the Beijing First Intermediate Court. Yahoo! attended the hearing as a third-party attendee. The Beijing First Intermediate Court affirmed the CNIPA’s decision.

In its decision, the Beijing First Intermediate court found that except intellectual property supervision, all other services such as computer leasing, computer programming, etc. were similar to the Cited Mark’s approved services “computer service; namely: to query and retrieve the information used on the computer network.” The “Soft” of the “YahaoSoft” can be understood meaning “software” when used on computer related services, which had weak distinctiveness, and the “Yahao” part was the distinctive part of the Disputed Mark. When compared the Disputed Mark’s distinctive part “Yahao” with the Cited Mark “YAHOO!,” it was obvious that the font and pronunciation were similar. If both marks were to co-exist on identical or similar services, it was likely to cause relevant consumer to be confused or mistaken on the source of services. Thus, the Disputed Mark constituted a similar mark with the Cited Mark according to Article 28 of the 2001 TM Law (Article 30 of the 2019 TM Law).

Yahoo! submitted sufficient evidence during the administrative proceeding to prove that Yahoo! had been using its English trade name “YAHOO!” for computer network related services prior to the Disputed Mark’s application date. Yahoo!’s trade name had attracted market reputation from the relevant public through use. There were strong associations between the computer network related services provided by Yahoo! and the Disputed Mark’s designated services of computer leasing, computer software coding, etc. Accordingly, when the Disputed Mark was registered on the said designated services, the relevant public was likely to be confused as to the source of services and Yahoo’s prior trade name right would be damaged according to Article 31 of the 2001 TM Law (Article 32 of the 2019 TM Law).

The evidence Yahoo! submitted during the administrative proceeding proved it had attracted market reputation before the Disputed Mark’s application date on computer related services, namely, to query and retrieve the information used on the computer network. Combined with the fact that the Disputed Mark’s main distinguishable part was similar to the Cited Mark in font and pronunciation, which constituted as the Cited Mark’s imitation. Although the intellectual property supervision services designated under the Disputed Mark was not similar to the computer services designated under the Cited Mark, given that the Cited Mark had reached well-known status, the Disputed Mark’s use on the said services would likely to cause the relevant public to mistaken that the Disputed Mark had certain association with the Cited Mark, and potentially damage the Cited Mark owner’s interests according to Article 13(2)of the 2001 TM Law (Article 13(3) of the 2019 TM Law).

3. Beijing East IP analysis and comments

In Part I of this series we mentioned that a mark can be recognized as well-known based on the principles of case-by-case recognition and need-based recognition. The main issue presented in the two cases is when and how to apply well-known mark recognition in each case.

First, in the RITZ-CARLTON case, Ritz-Carlton based its grounds on Article 10(1)(viii), Article 13(2), Article 31, and Article 41(1) of the 2001 TM Law. The court found that the Disputed Mark’s registration does not fall into the conditions described in Article 10(1)(viii), Article 31, Article 41(1). The court only applied Article 13(2) in finding that Zhi Zhi’s trademark registration in Class 36 would damage Ritz-Carlton’s well-known mark in Class 42 (Class 43). Here, although Ritz-Carlton based its grounds on four different articles, the court held that the articles other than Article 13(2) did not apply, and that it was necessary to recognize the cited mark as a well-known mark to protect Ritz-Carlton’s trademark rights.

In the YAHOO! case, Yahoo! based its grounds on Article 13(2), Article 28, and Article 31 of the 2001 TM Law. The court applied Article 28 in finding that the Disputed Mark constituted as a similar mark to the Cited Mark when used on similar services. The court also applied Article 31 in finding that the Disputed Mark’s registration on services similar to those services approved under the Cited Mark would damage Yahoo!’s prior trade name right. Here, since the court had applied Article 28 and Article 31 in protecting Yahoo!’s rights against the designated services on computer related services under the Disputed Mark, the court did not apply Article 13(2) for cross-class protection regarding the computer related services. The court’s application of laws clearly demonstrated that when the interest party’s rights can be protected by certain articles raised in its argument, the court will not apply the article regarding well-known mark recognition.

Second, although well-known mark recognition provides cross-class protection, such protection only extends to the relevant goods or services covered by the level of the mark’s well-known status, that is, the cross-class protection does not extend to all 45 classes. In the RITZ-CARLTON case, the court recognized the “RITZ-CARLTON” mark was well-known in hotels services. The Disputed Mark’s approved goods on commercial housing sales services and real estate agency services were related to hotels services. Based on this finding, the court concluded that the Disputed Mark’s registration on the said services would be likely to cause confusion to the relevant public and damage Ritz-Carlton’s interests. The court, however, did not grant protection against other services (insurance; capital investment; art valuation; agency; guarantee; raise charitable funds; entrusted management; pawn shop) under the Disputed Mark. In the YAHOO! case, the court granted cross-class protection on the intellectual property supervision service based on Yahoo!’s arguments that, in the Internet industry, intellectual property supervision was closely related to Yahoo!’s well-known search engine related services and serves similar consumers.

Finally, the evidence we submitted on behalf of our clients during the administrative litigation proceedings was key in obtaining the well-known mark recognition. Generally, courts do not always admit new evidence in administrative litigation. In the RITZ-CARLTON case, the CNIPA and the courts have different views as to whether the “RITZ-CARLTON” mark could be recognized as a well-known mark. The difference lies in the admissibility of the large amount of new evidence submitted during the court proceeding. We collected and submitted copies of various evidence found through the National Library, the Shanghai Library, the China Tourism News, the People’s Daily, Xinhua Net, CNKI and other media as corroborative evidence. Meanwhile, we further submitted the notarized documents as corroborative evidence to satisfy the formality requirement. The courts affirmed that the new evidence is to strengthen the evidence submitted during the CNIPA proceeding, in which Ritz-Carlton submitted substantial evidence to support its arguments. If not admitted, Ritz-Carlton’s rights would be severely damaged. Especially under the circumstance that when comprehensively consider all evidence submitted, the cited mark can be recognized as a well-known mark, not admitting the supplemental evidence would be unjustified.

As you may have guessed, evidence collection is an important phase in obtaining well-known mark recognition. Next, we will share different cases to further elaborate how to best collect evidence for a well-known mark.

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