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Facebook Scores Rare Trademark Victory In China: No 'Face Book' Allowed

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Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg won a trademark case in China after the Beijing Higher People's Court ruled in its favor against a local company that used "face book" on its beverage product.

Zhujiang Beverage Factory, which is a Zhongshan-based company, registered the trademark "face book" in 2011. Its products include porridge and milk-flavored drinks.

In 2014, the company gained approval from the country's Trademark Review and Adjudication Board to continue using the trademark after Facebook had objected to such use.

A recent post at the Beijing court's Weibo account revealed that the trademark authority's ruling has been revoked. A new verdict was then issued last month, which said that Zhujiang Beverage Factory's "face book" labeling on certain foods and beverages is no doubt an obvious act of trademark infringement and that it had violated fair market competition.

The issue has so far gained wider attention on Chinese social media.

Liu Hongqun, marketing manager at Zhujiang Beverage, argued that "face book" or "lian shu" in the local language depicts something that is inherent in Chinese culture.

Lian shu, according to Liu, is commonly seen in traditional Chinese operas that feature intricately designed masks known as "face books" in China. These masks are used to portray a historical figure in China's traditional operas, although they are more popular in Peking opera.

Liu further argued that while Facebook is indeed a globally popular brand, it has been blocked in China since 2009. He asked about how many customers in China can really access Facebook or sign up for an account in the mainland.

Under the laws in China, a multinational company that has a recognized brand worldwide must prove to the Chinese court that its trademark is also popular within the mainland. Use may be one thing, but popularity is a different matter.

Though Facebook has been blocked in China, the social media site and Zuckerberg are well known in the mainland. Most internet users have gained access to the site by using virtual private networks (VPNs), which are of course deemed illegal by the nation. Apart from Facebook, Twitter — which is also blocked in China — is accessed by consumers using VPNs.

It is speculated that Facebook's recent trademark victory is attributed in part to Zuckerberg's adulation for China. Some of his well-known moves that have earned him a celebrity status include giving out a speech in Mandarin to a crowd in China, sending a Lunar New Year video message in Mandarin, posting some photos on social media that showed him jogging at the smog-filled Tiananmen Square in Beijing, and conducting a meeting in March with Liu Yunshan, a member of a top circle of leadership in China.

In contrast, Apple recently lost a trademark case against a leather-making company that used the name "IPHONE" on its products. The iPhone maker is set to appeal its case to the mainland's Supreme People's Court.

Photo: Marco Paköeningrat | Flickr

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