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Descendants of Li Guangdi dispute use of forebear's name in trademarks, Zhang Zhao reports.
For eight consecutive days six men, most of them aged, stayed at Wang Qing's tea shop in Anxi county of Fujian province to protest the shopkeeper's registration of a trademark using the name of their ancestor Li Guangdi, who was a famous writer and high-ranking minister in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912).
Wang acquired the rights for the Li Guangdi trademark in 2006 for use on tea. Designed with Li's profile and his name in both Chinese and English, the same trademark was later registered by Wang for many other kinds of goods including food, clothes and publishing services.
Wang claims that he acquired the trademark rights using the legal process and the name Li Guangdi is part of Chinese culture, so the trademark also promotes and protects local tea culture.
"Many trademarks use the names of celebrities in history and the applicants are not their descendants," he said.
Last year Li Guangdi tea was granted provincial famous trademark status.
"Li Guangdi and Tieguanyin tea are two of the best-known names from Anxi county," said Wang. "Combine them and we have a new brand."
But Li's descendants say their forebear had little connection with Tieguanyin tea. According to county annals, local Anxi residents started to make Tieguanyin tea in 1725, seven years after Li died.
"Using Li's name and portrait without the authorization of his descendants is a great insult," said Li Jinde, a member of the administration of Li's former residences. "If you really want to promote our ancestor, you should highlight his contributions to the nation instead of printing his image on tea packages that will be thrown away after the tea is used."
Last year, Wang planned to donate a bronze statue of Li, but the writer's descendants refused. He also said he is "willing to negotiate with them".
Negotiations of sorts between the two sides actually began in 2008 as Li's descendants demanded that Wang stop using the trademark or pay an annual fee.
Li had two residences in the county, and each has an administration today. Li Bingtian, an executor at one of the estates, said Wang should pay 100,000 yuan ($16,090) to each administration annually, but the tea dealer has yet to respond.
"The reason for the trademark rush is that the current trademark law has no regulation about using celebrity names as trademarks," said Du Liyu, an intellectual property lawyer at local Huada Law Firm.
If Li's descendants want to claim the rights to the name, they have to file an application with the national trademark office to revoke the trademark. "It costs only 1,000 yuan to register a trademark, but will cost far more (for Li's descendants) to claim their rights," he said.
Chu Baoyang, a senior official of the local culture and press administration, said that businesspeople registering trademarks with celebrity names might "bring about win-win results provided that they negotiate well with the descendants".
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(China Daily 01/23/2013 page17)