In an unpublished decision, on March 31, 2020, the Beijing Chaoyang District Market Supervision Administration fined Alibaba Technology (Beijing) Co., Ltd. an undisclosed amount in 京朝市监工罚（2020）230号 for attempting to register multiple coronavirus-related trademarks in China on behalf of several applicants. Alibaba was acting as a trademark agent knowingly (or should have known) in violation of circumstances specified in Articles 15 and 32 of the Trademark Law. The maximum fine that can be imposed is 100,000 RMB (about $14,000).
Alibaba represented several applicants in attempting to register at least 20 coronavirus-related trademarks including for the name Dr. Li Wenliang, a Wuhan doctor that warned colleagues early in the epidemic of the new coronavirus and later died from it.
Presumably, the applicants used Alibaba’s automated trademark application service for sellers on its platforms. The automated service apparently does not have a database for improper trademarks or does but doesn’t update that database regularly. For example, it has been previously reported that a third party was able to apply for one Alibaba’s trademarks “盒马生鲜” through Alibaba’s own service.
Authority to fine trademark agencies as well as applicants themselves comes from newly amended Article 68 of the Trademark Law. This is potentially good news to foreign entities facing squatting by Chinese trademark registrants as this shows the newly amended law has teeth and the government is willing to enforce the law.