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Law Safeguards Foreign Brands

The French brand owner of Montagut knows well how to protect its intellectual property rights in China.

Bonneterie Cevenole SARL, the owner of the famous fashion brand, has once again sued three Chinese companies for trademark right infringement.

The Beijing No 2 Intermediate People's Court will open a hearing on this tomorrow.

The plaintiff claimed that the Guangzhou Mengjiao Boy Trade Company and the Guangzhou Mengjiao Boy Clothing Company illegally used the "Montagut" word and a similar logo on their clothing products.

The two Guangzhou-based companies sold large amount of clothes bearing such words and logos in Beijing and Guangzhou, sources at Bonneterie Cevenole SARL said.

Meanwhile, another defendant, the Beijing Sanli Store Real Estate Development Company sold the above-mentioned clothes that violated the exclusive right of Montagut trademark, the French company claimed.

In 1986, the plaintiff registered the trademark MONTAGUT, its Chinese version MENGTEJIAO, and the MENGTEJIAO plus flower design, with the Trademark Office of the State Administration for Industry and Commerce (SAIC) under the category of clothes, shoes, hats and headgear.

The French company called for compensation of 500,000 yuan (US$60,400) from the two Guangzhou-based companies for its economic losses.

The plaintiff also required that the three Chinese companies stop these infringements immediately.

It is not the first time that Montagut, one of the world's leading fashion brands, has had to safeguard its intellectual property rights (IPR) on the Chinese mainland.

In December last year, the Shanghai No 2 Intermediate People's Court ruled that three Chinese companies should pay 500,000 yuan (US$60,400) in compensation to Montagut for violating the French fashion company's trademark.

The three punished companies are Shanghai Meizheng Garment Company, Monteque Mayjane (Hong Kong) Fashion Company and Changshu Haoteba Garment Company.

An Qinghu, director of SAIC's Trademark Office, said the authorities have been intensifying efforts to slash trademark violations in recent years.

"We encourage any domestic and foreign companies to bring lawsuits to local or higher level courts when their trademarks are violated," said An.

Since China joined the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property in 1985, the country's industrial and commercial departments have made a great effort in protecting famous foreign trademarks, according to Zhao Gang, an official with the SAIC.

The country has approved 336 pieces of domestic and overseas famous trademarks since it implemented the Regulation for Evaluating and Managing Famous Trademarks in 1996.

According to the regulation, famous trademarks refer to those registered trademarks that are well-known to certain groups of people.

In China, the SAIC is responsible for evaluating famous trademarks.

Holders of domestic and foreign famous brands should apply to the SAIC for this sort of protection.

Famous brands can enjoy both administrative and judicial protection in China, according to Jiang Zhipei, the chief justice of the Intellectual Property Rights Tribunal of China's Supreme People's Court.

Some 300 intermediate people's courts across the country can accept cases of trademark disputes.

Owners of famous brands can either resort to industrial and commercial administrations or intermediate people's courts, said Jiang.

Over the past seven years, China's industrial and commercial departments have given a great support to protect Pizza Hut, Marlboro, Sher-Wood and other famous foreign brands in their disputes with some Chinese companies that intended to register similar trademarks, SAIC sources said.

Shen Zhihe, a professor of trademark law at Renmin University of China, said any similar logos or English spelling with Montagut by other companies should be banned, so as to avoid confusions among consumers.

Shen attributes the rampant counterfeiting activities to the public's relatively weak awareness of intellectual property rights as China is in the preliminary phase of a market economy.

Besides, regional protectionism is also to blame. In some small cities or counties, big counterfeiters contribute a lot to local taxation, therefore some local governments tend to tolerate their counterfeiting activities, said Shen.

And in some areas counterfeiters are so audacious that they bribed supervisors, he added.

Therefore, Shen called for more strict law enforcement from the public security and industrial and commercial departments.

(China Daily May 17, 2004)

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