Lego Antics and Intellectual Property in China

30 Jan 2017

Several months ago, I wrote about Lego’s battles to protect the Lego man and how he has rare protection in the form of an EU three-dimensional trade mark: . This gives him potentially indefinite protection from imposters. It is much more common for 3D objects to be protected by registered designs, which only last for a fixed period of time.

The BBC recently reported on Lego’s factory in China and how difficult it is to spot the difference between a real Lego man and an unauthorised copy:

There is much said about the evolution of IP rights in China. We have a long way to go ourselves, especially after we leave the EU. However there have been some striking decisions and difficulties with IP in China.

The common theme I hear is that great progress is being made with regards to the protection of intellectual property rights in China.

Nonetheless, there have been some well known disasters where globally known trade mark owners have not been able to get the full protection they have in other countries because opportunistic businesses have registered trade marks for names such as iPhone and Jordan. When Apple and Michael Jordan came to register their globally distinctive names in China they came up against the prior rights holder and in Apple’s case, failed in their bid to register the name ‘iPhone’.

This is not a Joke.

In an astounding case mentioned to me yesterday during a chat with Nick Bowie from Trade Mark Attorneys Keltie, one of his client’s applied in China to register a trade mark for a name which is well established in the West. To their surprise a China based party applied to register the same mark on the same day a few hours later. The Trade Mark Office in China, instead of giving priority to the application filed first in the day, wrote to the parties setting out a staggeringly unexpected procedure for resolving the matter.

Both parties have been invited to attend the Trade Mark Office in Beijing. Each party will be given the chance to roll a dice. The party with the highest number will get the first chance to pick a number out of a hat (well, probably isn’t a hat but something else able to hold numbers written on something). The other party then gets to pick a number out of the hat and the one with the highest number gets to proceed with their trade mark application. The other loses out. In the event that one party does not attend, their application will be cancelled. In the event that both parties do not attend, both applications will be cancelled.

It would be very good to hear from anyone who has had interesting IP experiences from China or anywhere else in the world.

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