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Patent dispute lands in court
By Liu Li (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-05-13 22:34

The Shanghai Unilever, a Sino-British joint venture, was taken to court by a Beijing resident for patent right infringement.

No decision was made Thursday at the Beijing No 2 Intermediate People's Court after the first hearing in the case.

Liu Heping, 44, claimed that the packaging for Unilever's Comfort fabric conditioner violated his patent rights, which were registered in 2001.

"The technological characteristics of the synthetic resin packaging of Comfort fabric conditioner accords with the design in my patent exactly," Liu said Thursday in court.

His utility model patent is also a package with a flexible mouth, according to the evidence provided by Liu.

The plaintiff is seeking compensation of 50,000 yuan (US$6,040) according to profits Unilever made from sales of Comfort fabric conditioner.

"Unilever's use of my patent without authorization has violated my business opportunities," he said.

He claimed that he intended to set up a factory to use the patented technology to pack thick chili sources, but cannot now due to Unilever's packaging.

Beijing-based Jingkelong Supermarket, a famous supermarket, was also named by Liu for its part in selling the conditioner.

Meanwhile, Liu also claimed that a Japanese meat source he bought at the Beijing Ito Yakado also violated his patent rights, but he has not entered an action in that matter.

At Thursday's hearing, the patent agent representing Unilever claimed that Comfort conditioner's packaging was made according to a Japanese patent not registered in China, which means it could be used freely.

"The Japanese patent was granted in 1998, three years earlier than Liu's patent," Zhao Haisheng, Unilever's patent agent, said Thursday.

According to Zhao, Unilever conducts large-scale investigations to ensure its products do not violate the intellectual property rights of others.

He also said that Liu's patent does not have the character of novelty, as there was already an earlier patent which was not registered in China.

Zhao also said that evidence provided by the plaintiff failed to prove that all of the technological characteristics of the Comfort conditioner are the same as those found in Liu's patent.

"The involved patent involves a utility model, but not a design patent. Thus you cannot decide it is infringement merely from the appearance," he said.

The plaintiff and the defendant did not reach a consensus over whether to accept judicial conciliation put forward by the court Thursday.

Liu expressed his willingness for conciliation, but Unilever refused.

Beijing Jingkelong Supermarket also denied the accusations by Liu, saying that he could not prove that the product was indeed bought at the shop as Liu failed to show the product and an original invoice in court.

Sources with Unilever also doubted the origin of the patent provided by Liu.

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