The trademarks of Chinese classics such as Journey to the West, The Water Margin or Outlaws of the Marsh, and Annals of the Three Kingdoms are under threat with foreign electronic gaming companies attempting to register these names without any reference to the Chinese people, an expert on the subject warned last Monday.
Liao Junming, a veteran of the China Intellectual Property Society (CIPS), appealed through the media for protection of the intellectual properties of Chinese classics. Also the CEO of Honghui International Intellectual Property Firm (Beijing & Guangdong) Liao said he realized how serious the situation was when he launched a research campaign into the subject after he came back from 2005 China Games Industry Annual Conference organized by China's General Administration of Press and Publication in Xiamen, Fujian Province on January 11-12.
"Next I’m going to check if the titles of the famous Chinese ‘swordsman novels’ have been registered as trademarks by foreign companies," Liao told Shanghai Evening Post on February 13. He explained that he was writing a report on the subject, "The report will be out around March and then we'll know just how many classic works have been registered by overseas companies."
According to Liao's research most of the foreign companies involved are from Japan. Liao said despite the popularity of some domestic game products developed from classic Chinese writing there was a clear possibility of Court action over trademark infringements. Indeed the entire future of the animation industry could face significant difficulties over the issue.
Japanese companies along with others from South Korea, Europe and the US are all eyeing Chinese classics which they see as ideal for the development of computer games. It seems Chinese martial arts novels, sweeping fairytales, swordsman legends and historic lover stories are of particular interest.
Even Hollywood is involved with preparations to shoot a number of Chinese classics such as Journey to the West, Sun Zi: The Art of War and Genghis Khanli which are aimed to be in cinemas in time for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. However, so far the only classic tale which has been registered as a trademark by a domestic game company is The Investiture of the God, a report from China News Service said on February 14.
Liao said China's online games industry had made rapid developments in recent years. According to statistics released at the 2005 China Games Industry Annual Conference, the online game sale revenue grossed 3.77 billion yuan (US$468 million), 52.6 percent higher than 2004, a faster growth than anyone had predicted.
Telecom revenue relating to online gaming was around 17.34 billion yuan (US$2.15 billion), associated IT revenue was about 7.16 billion yuan (US$889 million) and income from related publications stood at 3.71 billion yuan (US$461 million). This huge market goes a long way to explain why large foreign firms and many other businesses are so protective of their products. It appears that Japanese companies have strongest will to hold onto their slice of the cake -- Sega and SquareEnix set up Chinese branches last year while Sony and Nintendo sell PlayStation 2 and GBA games in China.
And their business methods are clever, Liao points out. When the trademark of a Chinese classic is registered, several additional titles will also be registered. For example, KOEI Co. Ltd. listed a number of trademarks relating to the Annals of the Three Kingdoms in 2002-03. These included titles such as "Romance of the Three Kingdoms" and "Shin Sangoku Musou" and have gone as far as the name of a fictional character – “Koumei.”
And on March 9, 2004 G-mode registered the title "Journey to the West." This left NetEase.com, the top Chinese portal site, no choice but to develop popular online games with titles relating to the classic. It also grabbed the trademarks of "Three Kingdoms Mahjong" and "G-mode Three Kingdoms Mahjong."
Sources in China's Trademark Office explained that some Japanese companies were pursuing the trademark copyright of "Journey to the West" for game merchandise. This move was reported by the China News Service.
But Liao has suggested it’s not too late to fight back and save the trademarks of the Chinese classics. He said his Honghui International Intellectual Property Firm have checked with China's Trademark Office and it had been explained that except for some already recognized trademarks such as "Suikoden" (The Water Margin), "Romance of the Three Kingdoms," "Koumei" and "Sun Zi: The Art of War," others awaited going through primary review process.
Liao said that armed with China's trademark law any company or individual could explain their concerns and appeal to China's Trademark Office within a three month period of a trademark being granted. A request could be lodged requesting that an application from a foreign company to be turned down. .
"Our numerous classical works are part of our valuable cultural heritage,” said Liao. “It’s necessary for government departments or interested organizations to step in to ensure copyright and trademark protection is available."
Another concern for Liao was the Internet. “There are too many young net-surfers picking up information and knowledge from online games,” he said. “If foreign companies put inappropriate content into games using the titles of the Chinese classics, it could have serious bad influence on young people. The protection of the intellectual properties of these Chinese classics relates to our traditional culture and the education of our children,” he added.
(China.org.cn by Zhang Rui February 20, 2006)