On 24 April 2017, the Beijing Intellectual Property Court (“ the Court”) published 18 classic cases concerning trademarks filed in bad faith. One of these cases dealt with a invalidation action filed by Tiffany and company (“Tiffany”), the luxury jeweler.

Tiffany prevailed in the invalidation action brought in 2013 against Chinese trademark registration no. 8009772 for “蒂 凡尼” (pronounced as “Di Fan Ni” in Mandarin) on wallpaper, carpets etc. in Class 27 in the name of Shanghai Zhendi Decoration Materials Co., Ltd. (“Shanghai Zhendi”). After the Trademark Review and Adjudication Board (“TRAB”) rejected the registration, Shanghai Zhendi appealed to the Beijing IP Court.

The Beijing IP Court held that Tiffany’s “TIFFANY” mark registered in respect of jewellery and precious stones had become well-known prior to the application date of the subject “蒂凡尼” mark. Not only is the “蒂凡尼” mark phonetically similar to “TIFFANY”, there is also only one Chinese character difference between Tiffany’s mark and the corresponding Chinese mark “蒂凡尼”. The contested mark therefore constituted an imitation of Tiffany’s marks.

Tiffany Case Takeaway

This is a classic case about deterring bad faith registrations under Chinese Trademark Law. In deciding whether the mark concerned would mislead the public and cause detriment to the rights of the well-known trademark owner, the Court considered all factors, such as the extent of the reputation of the well-known mark, the similarity between the marks, how related the designated goods are, the intention of the owner of the mark concerned, etc.

In the case at hand, Tiffany’s extensive and substantial use of the mark “TIFFANY” and of its Chinese mark “蒂凡尼” had resulted in a strong reputation in the market and an immediate correlation of any similar or identical mark to goods associated with the company, namely jewellery. Apart from registering the mark “蒂凡尼”, Shanghai Zhendi had also registered the English mark “DIFFANY” and the combination mark “蒂凡尼壁纸 DIFFANY” (essentially “Di Fan Ni Wallpaper DIFFANY”) and used the mark “蒂凡尼” together with “DIFFANY”. Shanghai Zhendi’s intention to ride on the reputation of Tiffany’s well-known mark could therefore not have been more obvious. The Court considered that the relevant public would likely associate the two marks, so that the source of the goods would be mistakenly be attributed to Tiffany and Tiffany’s rights would consequently be damaged.

Good News to Brand Owners

The outlined case demonstrates the Chinese Court’s determination to reject or invalidate trademarks which amount to acts of copying another’s well-known mark in bad faith. Yet this cannot be achieved without the vigilance of the legitimate trademark owners who need to be proactive, and take action as soon as such registrations are detected.