People often say it’s the little victories that count. From jogging in Beijing’s hazardous air, to meeting with senior Chinese officials and prominent tech giants, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been doggedly promoting himself and his company in the Middle Kingdom. On May 9th, all that lung damage and time spent learning Chinese finally paid off when the Beijing Higher Court ruled that a Guangdong-based beverage company did not have the right to use “face book” on their products, including potato chips, canned goods and various drinks.
Zhongshan Pearl River Drinks Factory registered to trademark “face book” back in 2014, Sina reports. Facebook proceeded to sue immediately, arguing that it is a multinational company with a prominent brand that is well-recognized (if not accessible) in China. Evidently, their arguments persuaded the court, marking a rare victory for foreign companies in Chinese copyright cases.
The court released a statement of its verdict:
If the applicant applies to register a large number of well-known trademarks from other companies, intending to gain benefits by hoarding and transferring the rights, such acts must be stopped.
The company’s behavior and trademark registration shows signs of plagiarism, which disturbs the legitimate trademarking process, damages the market and violates public order.
Despite the fact that Facebook has been blocked in mainland China since 2009, following deadly riots in Xinjiang, the court still regarded it as a well-known brand. On the other hand, Liu Hong Qun, the vice general manager of Zhongshan Pearl River Drinks, questioned, “If Facebook has such an influential brand globally, why can’t Chinese consumers access its website?” according to a report from the Financial Times.
Just last month, Apple was in a very similar situation but lost a lawsuit against Xintong Tiandi, a company that is now allowed to use the trademark “IPHONE” on their leather products, after the Beijing Higher Court ruled that Apple’s iPhone was not a well-known brand at that the time that the Chinese company filed its trademark, in 2007.
China is infamous for its disregard of international copyright laws — with copycat sphinxes, talent shows and luxury brands — and foreign companies have largely failed when seeking justice in Chinese courts. This unusual verdict may very well serve to revitalize hopes, just as Under Armour prepares to take legal action against Uncle Martian, and Gucci readies to go after the dead.
Meanwhile, Apple CEO Tim Cook is scheduled to visit China later this month to try and deal with the myriad of problems his company faces in the country. Keep a look out for him, jogging around Tiananmen.
By Sarah Lin
[Images via Facebook / Zhongshan Pearl River]