On the afternoon of October 16, 2023, China’s Supreme People’s Court released typical cases involving the protection of personality rights of private enterprises and private entrepreneurs and answered reporters’ questions. While the typical cases mostly relate to defamation, one relates to trademark registration of another’s name, which may be useful in invalidating trademark registrations of eponymous corporations made by squatters.
As explained by the Supreme People’s Court:
Case 2: Registration of a trademark containing another person’s name for improper purposes constitutes an infringement of other people’s right to name and personal dignity.
——Xie v. Chen’s personality rights dispute case
The plaintiff, Xie, is the chairman of a listed company, and he and his company are well-known. The defendant Chen and the plaintiff Xie are fellow villagers, and they had financial disputes in their early years. From 2014 to 2022, Chen successively applied to register multiple trademarks that have the same pronunciation, same pronunciation, or are homophones of Xie’s name and the name of his company, as well as other trademarks associated with Xie’s name with his company name or hometown address. The classes covered by registered trademarks include urns, coffins, shrouds and other funeral supplies. Some trademarks have been registered and used on urns and other products. After Xie filed a cancellation application for the above-mentioned trademarks, Chen still submitted a registered trademark application of the same category using Xie’s name. In 2022, Chen registered a funeral supplies business department with the same name as Xie, and its business scope included funeral supplies sales, funeral services, etc.
Xie believed that Chen used his name and company name in an insulting manner without his permission, which violated social morality and public order and good customs, seriously damaged the image of himself and the company under his name, lowered his reputation, and placed himself and relatives were under great mental pressure, so the lawsuit demanded that Chen be prohibited from using the relevant trademarks, and that Chen be required to apologize, compensate for losses, and pay damages for mental damage.
The trial court held that Chen applied for a registered trademark under Xie’s name and the name of his company and used it on funeral supplies, which was an act against Xie for improper purposes and showed obvious subjective malice. Even from the perspective of ordinary perspectives, Chen’s behavior clearly exceeded the scope of reasonableness, violated social order and good customs, violated Xie’s right to his name and personal dignity, and should bear corresponding civil liability. Therefore, Chen was sentenced to stop using the relevant trademarks, apologize and pay damages for mental distress.
With the diversification of social development, the behavior that infringes on personality rights has become diversified and concealed by appearing to be in compliance with legal provisions in form but in essence violates honesty and trustworthiness, fairness and justice, public order and good customs. Such behavior should be stopped in a timely manner. In this case, the defendant and the plaintiff had an economic dispute in the early years. Later, the defendant’s behavior against the plaintiff for improper purposes was obviously malicious. The trial court ruled against Chen’s malicious exercise of trademark rights and ordered Chen to stop using the registered trademark and apologize as well as compensating for mental losses, and punish the infringements in accordance with the law, thereby safeguarding the personality rights of entrepreneurs, and helped guide the creation of a legal environment that protects the legitimate rights and interests of entrepreneurs.
The full list of cases and explanations from the Supreme People’s court are geoblocked but can be viewed on social media here (Chinese only).