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Trademark speculators bet on Olympic Games

Updated: 2012-08-28 01:40
By Zheng Xin ( China Daily)

In addition to the pride and glory Chinese Olympic champions brought to the motherland, they have also delivered unlimited business opportunities to the nation's merchants.

Since the end of the London 2012 Olympic Games in mid-August, professional trademark pre-emptors have been trying to capitalize on the names of Chinese Olympic champions, according to China's trademark authority.

"They are registering a trademark not for their own use, but in speculation on a potential appreciation in value, to sell later for illicit profit," said Zhang Liwei, head of an application examination office at the Trademark Appeal Board under the State Administration for Industry and Commerce, during an interview with China Central Television.

While the office does not yet have information on trademark applications made on athletes' names during the Games, it says that applications were filed years ago on the names of many of the Chinese Olympic champions who rose to sudden stardom in August.

According to the office's trademark inquiry website, the name of Sun Yang — winner of individual titles in the men's 400-meter and 1,500-meter freestyle swimming in London and the first Chinese man ever to win an Olympic gold medal in swimming — was registered in August 2011 by a health products company in Zhengzhou, Henan province.

The trademark office is examining the application. If it is approved, the company will be entitled to use the trademark for sports products.

The name Ye Shiwen — the 16-year-old swimmer who stunned the world by winning gold medals in the women's 200-meter and 400-meter individual medleys during the Games — was also registered in August last year by a company in Chengdu, Sichuan province.

Objections to that application have been filed, and it is currently being re-examined, according to the office.

Yu Guofu, a partner with Beijing Sheng Feng Law Firm, said there is little possibility the Sun Yang trademark will be approved because the company that filed the application has little to do with sportswear and is suspected of speculating on the potential value of the name.

The Zhengzhou company could not be reached for comment as of Monday.

China leads the world in registered trademarks, and the number has continued to rise sharply in recent years. Trademark pre-emption has long existed, but it, too, has surged in recent years due to the soaring price of trademarks thanks to the rising brand and intellectual property awareness of the Chinese merchants, said Yu.

"Trademark speculation occurs not only in relation to sporting events, but in everything that has the potential to become famous," said Yu. "Some applicants were lucky that the trademark they registered coincidently bears the same name as a prominent figure, but some entrepreneurs are tempted by foresight of athletes' fame and fortune to invest in the potential celebrity."

Chinese trademark law has measures to prevent speculation, he said.

The trademark office denies applications on names imitating those of prominent figures, places or institutions, Yu said.

In addition, before a trademark is approved, the application undergoes a three-month examination and is open to the public around the world. If any violation or infringement of rights is discovered, it is denied.

And a trademark registration can be revoked on the basis of valid complaints of speculation.

"China treats trademark and intellectual property issues in accordance with international standards and principles," he said. "But as there is no standard for being well-known, the judgment is sometimes very subjective."

Applying to register a trademark has its risks, too, Yu said.

"The applicant has to pay a 1,000 yuan ($160) registration fee, even if the trademark fails in the examination process," he said.

And there is the possibility of prosecution for violating trademark law and disturbing the order of trademark registration.

Yu said the right to apply for a trademark on a name that is by chance the same as that of a public figure should be protected.

The name of Lin Dan — the two-time Olympic badminton champion — was registered in 1997 by a feed mill of that name in Sichuan. The trademark was granted.

"As long as it's legitimate, the trademark should be based on first-to-file principle," Yu said.

"China has many Lin Dans, one of whom happens to be a two-time Olympic champion. But it is inevitable the name was registered as trademark years ago as the structure and character of the name is so simple," he said.

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