Suzhou Intermediate Court in Jiangsu Province ordered to grant a preliminary injunction requested by the famous Universal Pictures on June 28, 2019 in a pending lawsuit for copyright infringement. The Universal Studio Shanghai, the Chinese subsidiary of Universal Pictures, sued several local food manufacturing companies for the unauthorized use of "Minion" -- the image of animation figures, on their packages of dairy foods and beverages.

As a means of temporary protection, a plaintiff is entitled to a preliminary injunction in a pending lawsuit only under some circumstances. The statutory provisions of the injunctive relief are, at the least, founded upon Articles 100 and 102 of the Civil Procedural Law of the PRC. As one of the institutes that enforce authoritative regulations, the Supreme People’s Court invoked “Several Issues concerning the Application of Law in Cases Involving the Review of Act Preservation in Intellectual Property Disputes (the “Provisions”)” on January 1st, 2019, and the objectives of such judiciary interpretations on injunctive relieves are to refrain the accused infringers from specific acts. In pursuant to the Provisions, the court shall factor the following several circumstances as it grants an injunctive relief, including but not limited to the following,

  • Stability for the asserted IP rights and the likelihood of success on the merits;
  • Irreparable harm and unenforceability of a future judgment if an injunction is not granted;
  • Balance of the harm, the harm caused due to the absence of injunction in excess of the harm resulted by an injunction; and
  • Potential harm to the public interests if an injunctive relief is issued.

The court found the fame of Minions in the market of China far and wide. When the movie was first premiered in 2015, although delayed by two months than that in North America, it hit such a record high of RMB 123 million for the first day. The movies of “Minions” series were the first animation movie whose earnings of box office make an excess of RMB 100 million on the first day in Chinese film history. Most of all, the related merchandises of Minions have aroused enthusiasm from all ages. As such, the unauthorized uses of Minion image are found with increasing amount in the relevant markets, which produce confusions.

The facts of the case were not, however, disclosed to the public in full. Furthermore, the defendants were found to infringe the image of Minions willfully, and pass off the trademark thereof, which includes to assume themselves as the trademark licensee on their product package. According to notarized materials, the defendants made modifications of Minions image and then brought the same for copyright registration under their own name. One of the products for alleged infringement was sold out with 2500 thousand pieces, generating the sales revenue of RMB 15 million. Furthermore, some evidences of food test report showed that false labels of nutritional ingredients were found on the products of alleged infringement. All those asserted facts have well indicated the urgent necessity to grant a preliminary injunction.

Based on the foregoing analysis and findings, the IP Tribunal of Suzhou Intermediate Court granted an injunction that prohibits the defendants from making or selling food products packaged with Minions image, awaiting the final judgment of the case to become effective.