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The Chinese Trade Mark Saga – Facebook Wins Trade Mark Case

Facebook wins trademark case in China

While Apple Inc lost its trade mark case in China, Facebook has made headway by winning their trade mark case for its own brand name. A Chinese vegetable oil and potato chips maker called Zhongshan Pearl River registered ‘face book’ in 2014, but the courts in China have revoked the trade mark.

Why did Facebook win while Apple lost its case?

Although Facebook is blocked in China, it is still accessed by a large number of Chinese web users through VPN (Virtual Private Networks). Under Chinese trade mark laws, a global brand has to prove that its trade mark is also well known in China. In Apple’s case, the court decided that the ‘iPhone’ trade mark wasn’t well known, in China, when it was filed by the company.

Proving recognition

Facebook’s founder has been leading a charm offensive to woo Chinese government officials to allow Facebook to operate in China. The brand has been popular in the country for a while and as stated above, it has a sizable user base in the country. This has allowed Facebook to revoke the trade mark filed by the Chinese company.

The Supreme People’s Court decided that Zhongshan Pearl River had “violated moral principles” with “obvious intention to duplicate and copy from another high-profile trade mark”. Very aptly worded judgement from the Supreme People’s Court.

Registering your brand name

Registering your brand name

Registering a brand name can mean two different things. It can be either incorporating your company or registering your trade mark, which would be your brand. The latter is the more common understanding of the sentence ‘registering your brand’.

How do you register your brand?

If by this you mean you are looking to incorporate your company, then you need to visit the Companies House website and follow the process online to form your company. You can use company formation services if you are not comfortable with completing the process yourself. We’d recommend our friends Company Incorporations if you need help with this process.

On the other hand if you want to register your trade mark, then you would have to go through the following steps:

  1. Identify what it is that you want to trade mark. Is it your name, your logo, your slogan or anything unique about your service or product.
  2. Search to see if your trade mark is available. A trade mark has to be unique and original. Registering a trade mark gives you monopoly over its use in relation to specific goods and services. If an identical or similar trade mark exists, it is possible that you may have difficulty in registering it. To find out if your trade mark is available you can conduct a trade mark search in the relevant countries register.
  3. Research and understand the classes you will have to file your trade mark under. Trade mark are registered under classes, which identify specific goods and services. You can learn more about trade mark classes in our post here.
  4. Once you have gone through the above, you should file the trade mark application with the appropriate organisation. Trade marks are territorial so they need to be filed with the relevant countries trade mark offices.

The trade mark process is more complex than incorporating a company. The process can take a few months to complete. In the UK, the trade mark process can last between 4 to 6 months. If you are not comfortable with going through the process yourself, we can help you register your trade mark through one of the three affordable packages that we offer.

If you haven’t yet started your company then registering your brand would be both incorporating your company and getting your trade mark registered. If you have a company, then it would be registering your trade mark.

How to deal with a trade mark infringement threat

Dealing with a trade mark infrongement

Building a brand takes a lot of work.  After all the effort and hard labour you’ve put into creating your distinctive brand, it’s not pleasant to find out someone is using or manipulating the materials you’ve created. If you’ve registered a trade mark and someone is using it, or a deceptively similar mark, without your authorisation then they could be infringing upon your trade mark.

Identifying trade mark infringement

If you think that someone is using your trade mark in a way that is likely to confuse, deceive or mislead customers then you can start a trade mark infringement threat against them. To claim trade mark infringement, you have to prove the following:

  • that you have a valid trade mark registration that is legitimate and should be protected;
  • that a third party is infringing it and using it in trade;
  • and that the third party does not have consent to use the mark;

As these cases can be complicated, it is essential that you consult with a trade mark attorney before proceeding.

Using a Cease and Desist letter

If you do have a valid mark that ought to be protected, then the first port-of-call is normally to send carefully worded Cease and Desist letter (also known as a Letter of Claim or a Letter Before Action). This letter is designed to open communication and bring about an amicable settlement without the need for legal action.

The letter notifies the infringing party that you have a registered trade mark and insists that the third parties use of the trade mark stops. Alongside this letter, you can send a legally binding undertaking – a type of legal promise- which outlines the obligations of the third party not to commit any further infringing acts.

Unjustified trade mark infringement threats

If you have your solicitor send a Cease and Desist letter or Letter of Claim it must be very carefully worded so as to avoid unjustified threats of trade mark infringement. In the UK, if you file a trade mark infringement threat against a third party, but it is found to be wrongly alleged then you could be liable for making an ‘unjustified threat’.

In short, if you file for trade mark infringement against someone who turns out not to have infringed your trade mark you could make yourself liable! Any ‘aggrieved person’ could bring action against you for making a threat with no grounds. ‘Aggrieved person’ is a large and vague category, covering not only the person to whom the threat was given but anyone whose commercial interests might be affected. This could expand to include manufacturers or distributors. This particular piece of legislation is unique to the UK, and may change soon as the Unjustified Threats Bills is currently before Parliament, as of April 2016.

Lack of cooperation from trade mark infringer

If you’ve sent Letters of Claim, the party is continuing to infringe your trade mark and there is sufficient evidence of a breach then you can make a claim in the Chancery Division of the High Court (the Court of Session in Scotland), or the Intellectual Property and Enterprise Court (IPEC). An injunction can be obtained from either court to prevent the repetition of trade mark infringement.

Remedies for infringement of trade marks

Apart from a court injunction, there are a number of other remedies available. These include an inquiry into the damages caused or profits made by the trade mark infringer. Better known brands can order forcing the defendant to publicise the judgement through a publicity order. This is only necessary if there is a need for a supplementary deterrent and/or to contribute to public awareness about the infringement.

Court proceedings will ensure the infringer will cease trading and may have to pay compensation for damages if applicable. It is still possible (and indeed, often advisable) to reach a settlement before going to court.

Simplified Steps to Claiming Trade Mark Infringement

(Remember that settlement can occur at any point in these steps.)

  1. Identify the offending mark and check it is infringing your mark
  2. Check that your mark is valid and ought to be protected
  3. Send a Cease and Desist Letter
  4. Send a legally binding undertaking (optional)
  5. Issue a claim form to start civil proceedings (if no settlement is reached)
  6. Approach Trading Standards Officers (applies to criminal proceedings only for e.g. counterfeit products)
  7. Attend court and reach settlement
  8. If necessary, appeal against the court’s decision.

What to do if you’ve been issued with an infringement notice

If you’ve been served an infringement notice, arguing that your trade mark violates another party’s then you should contact a trade mark attorney immediately. You should check to ascertain whether your trade mark is in violation of anothers or not, and check the validities and expirations of all marks. If you have made a mistake, then it is best to come to an amicable agreement by liaising with the other party through your attorney.

5 Useful Tips For Registering A Trade Mark In The UK – Part 1

Registering a trade mark in the UK

The process of registering a trade mark can be complicated, which is why we highly recommend that you use a trade mark attorney or a specialist solicitor to register your trade mark. Saying that, we also understand that some people are on a tight budget and therefore cannot afford the legal costs involved. So if you plan on registering a trade mark yourself, here are 5 steps which will help you register a trade mark.

1 – Signs which are not registrable

Firstly, it is important to know what a trade mark is. A trade mark is a sign that distinguishes the goods and services of one trader from another in the market place. Registering a trade mark gives you exclusive rights to use a mark in connection with specific goods or services. Due to this not every mark can be registered. The trade mark law has strict requirements over what signs can be registered.

When thinking of registering a trade mark, the first question you need to ask yourself is, “Will my sign (word, logo, slogan, etc…) be seen by the general public as a trade mark?”. This is the question the the UK IPO (Intellectual Property Office) will consider. There are a few signs which cannot be registered and we’ve listed them as follows:

  • a general description of your goods or services for example ‘warm thermos’;
  • a description of their goods or service’s characteristics, for example ‘light vacuum’;
  • lack of distinctiveness in a sign for example ‘band-aid’;
  • and/or are customary in the language of the trade for example ‘Panadol’;

All of the above will be the subject of an objection by the UK IPO.

By creating a very imaginative mark, you can reduce your chances of getting an objection from UK IPO. For a word mark, its best to invent a word. Alternatively, you can choose words that are not obviously associated with your good or services. For a logo mark, it is highly advisable to have a stylish design element, which is unique and distinguishable. The more unique and distinctive your mark, the better the chances of having your application being accepted.

If you are not sure if your sign is in compliance with trade mark law, you can use the UK IPO on-line RightStart application. This application process includes trade mark assistance for non-professionals. Through this procedure, you only pay half of the fees upfront as the examiner only examines your application to inform you if there will be any obstacles to registering your trade mark. If the examiner thinks that your mark is not in compliance with trade mark law or finds a confusingly similar trade mark, you are free to abandon the application at this point. You must note that the government fees will not be refunded.

2 – Prepare your list of goods and services

A trade mark registration does not give protection over your mark in general. It gives you protection over your mark in relation to certain goods and/or services. So before filing a trade mark application, you need to precisely determine the goods and/or services under which your trade mark will be used. Once identified, they will need to be classified under an international classification called “Nice Classification” and you will then have to mention them in your application.

The Nice classification divides goods and services into 45 different classes: Classes 1 to 34 are for goods and classes 35 to 45 are for services. Whilst it may seem easy to understand the concept of organising your goods and services into different classes, the reality is not as simple.  Each class contains thousands of terms and descriptions. When writing your classification, it is important to:

a. include all the terms applicable or that will be applicable in the near future to your business;
b. not be tempted to choose a wide range of goods and services. If you are too broad, your registration might be subject to cancellation for non-use in relation to those goods and services for not being in use 5 years after the date of registration;
c. and be precise, because if your terms are found to be too vague, it will cause delays in the process of your application;

In the second part, we’ll give you tips on searching existing trade marks, which might conflict with yours and how to file your application correctly.