Date
25 March 2017
NB 996 (R) is a shoe series launched by New Balance while NB 666 (L) is a knockoff from China's New Bailun. Alibab's Jack Ma (inset) remarked recently that some Chinese fake goods can hold their own against the genuine articles. Photo: i-Cable
NB 996 (R) is a shoe series launched by New Balance while NB 666 (L) is a knockoff from China's New Bailun. Alibab's Jack Ma (inset) remarked recently that some Chinese fake goods can hold their own against the genuine articles. Photo: i-Cable

China’s baffling IPR rulings

It’s boom time for lawyers dealing in intellectual property cases in China, given the flurry of copyright infringement and technology lawsuits in the country.

From mobile giants Apple and Samsung to sport-shoe leaders New Balance and Jordan, global brands have been waging battles in China as their copyrights were challenged by local firms who seem to enjoy a home-field advantage.

Just who is copying who in China has become not only a legal question but also a philosophical one because the verdicts often run counter to popular beliefs.

Take New Balance, a US sportswear firm which recently lost a case in a Chinese appeal court against a trademark infringement ruling and ordered to pay 5 million yuan in compensation to a mainland firm, New Bailun (新百倫).

Luckily the fine was far lower than the 98 million yuan that a court had originally ordered New Balance to pay.

Following the setback in the appeal court late last month, a spokeswoman for the American firm said the “ruling is particularly concerning as it is contrary to the rest of the developed world’s understanding of intellectual property”.

Like New Balance, Jordan — the brand owned by US basketball superstar Michael Jordan — has also lost a long-running trademark fight in China.

In late July, a Beijing court dismissed a case brought by Jordan against China’s Qiaodan Sports Co., which has been using a similar name and logo as the American sports star’s Nike-produced brand.

The court said Jordan was a common name in the United States and hence it is hard to make a case for infringement. Qiaodan (喬丹) is the Mandarin name for Jordan.

Both New Balance and Jordan have said they will continue their legal fight despite the adverse rulings.

Alibaba’s Jack Ma was right when he said recently that Chinese-made counterfeit goods today have gotten better than the genuine articles.

Perhaps he should have also added that the Chinese goods are more legitimate.

Copyright infringement cases have become something of a joke on the mainland.

In mid-June, Beijing’s Intellectual Property Office ruled against Apple in a patent dispute brought by Chinese handset maker Shenzhen Baili. 

The iPhone 6 and 6 Plus infringe on Baili’s patent rights because of similarities to the Chinese firm’s 100C phone which was launched in 2014, the authority ruled.

Apple quickly appealed to a higher court but still runs the risk of losing out on a key part of its China business.

Now all eyes are on Samsung which is facing a copyright infringement claim from Huawei in relation to a 4G handset.

In the past, Chinese phone makers were at the receiving end of such lawsuits, but now the tables seem to be turning.

Times have indeed changed!

– Contact us at [email protected]

BK/JP/RC

EJ Insight writer

EJI Weekly Newsletter

Please click here to unsubscribe