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Trademark Owners Look for Local Licensees
As copyright protection improves in China, a growing number of international trademark owners are actively searching for domestic companies to license their characters and logos.

"Things are different since China entered into the World Trade Organization," said Richard Wang of Anime Entertainment International Ltd., a subsidiary of Hong Kong-based Animation International Ltd., which owns the mainland license to several Japanese cartoon characters, such as Crayon Shinchan and Doraemon.

"Copyright violations are decreasing. At least pirates don't dare work openly," he said.

The situation has improved so much that Anime's parent company has decided to start selling licensing rights on the mainland this year.

Wang's company is not alone.

An exhibition in town that ended on Saturday drew about 50 companies looking for qualified licensees to design, manufacture and market clothes, toys, knapsacks and other goods carrying images of cartoon characters they represent.

"The business condition in terms of intellectual property rights is getting better on the mainland," said Wendy Chang, president of Taiwan-based Impact Marketing/Management Consultation Co. Ltd. "We used to find fakes on a regular basis," she said, adding that every time she returns to the mainland she sees fewer and fewer knockoffs.

The Taiwan company is the exclusive agent in China for Teletubbies, a children's TV program produced by the British Broadcast Corp.

While statistics about copyright infringement are hard to come by, companies that fight piracy say the situation is improving on the mainland since China joined the WTO.

"Last year, my company found more than 100 cases involving trademark violations and counterfeiting, but so far this year we have only found 60," said Ruan Hong, an official with BOB Information Service Ltd., which helped owners of Hello Kitty and Hanrio crack down on copyright violations.

"China has long been labeled a 'world factory' for international brand names, but most of the products are exported as very few companies have licenses to distribute and sell them on the domestic market," said Sha Yiwen, director of Shanghai Trade Exhibition Office, which organized the fair.

Wang Jian of Shanghai Yihui Commodity Co. Ltd. attended the fair with an eye on buying a license to characters from the popular Harry Potter books and movies.

"I think (Harry Potter) can help my products, which are mostly decorations and stationery," said Wang, while browsing sample products at the licensing show. "I will also develop more products with the image if I get the license to use it."

Several companies are already enjoying a nice payoff from buying licenses to well-known characters.

"Since our company picked up a license to use the image of Winnie Pooh in 1998, products are selling much better," said Qi Wenjing, general manager of Shanghai Joint Force International Trading Co. Ltd.

Before it bought the license, Joint Force was simply a manufacturer of children's products and gifts. Now it not only manufactures and designs products, but has also opened eight specialized stores -- Fuchi Fun House -- selling licensed children's products.

Licensing of characters has a short history in China, dating back only seven or eight years when Mickey Mouse started popping up on store shelves.

(Eastday.com November 12, 2002)

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