Trademark misuse of Olympians' names criticized

Updated: 2012-08-30 18:37


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BEIJING - Trademark registrants are exploiting the popularity of successful domestic and overseas Chinese athletes in the wake of the Olympic Games by rushing to register the right to use their names, a business tactic that is increasingly being questioned in China.

With the practice referred to as "qiangzhu," or "rush to register," criticism has centered around companies or individuals buying the rights with the intention of cynically selling them onto other entities wishing to use the famous names in marketing. There have been cases of millions of yuan changing hands in these high-price transfers, or even illegal activity such as blackmail being involved, according to trade officials.

Meanwhile, many are concerned that the feeding frenzy is not in athletes' best interests.

Two Chinese swimsuit companies applied to use the names of Sun Yang and Ye Shiwen, swimming gold medalists at the London Olympic Games, as early as summer last year, without the swimmers' approval, Central China Television reported last Sunday.

According to the China Trademark Office, the names of Sunyang and Ye Shiwen were the subject of a trademark application last August.

Of all the trademarks passed by the State Administration for Industry and Commerce (SAIC), 48 target Liu Xiang, China's 110m hurdler; Asian-American basketballer Jeremy Lin is the subject of 229 applications; while the Chinese characters for Yao Ming, the retired NBA star, feature in 110.

Although Sun Yang and Ye Shiwen's names have not received official approval for registration, the phenomenon has stirred discussion in the online community, as netizens argue, if passed, the trademarks could mislead consumers and damage the reputation of the athletes.

Survey results revealed by on Tuesday showed that 48 percent of polled netizens said government offices should crack down on such activity, while 28 percent believe that celebrities or businesses should strengthen their awareness to protect their fame or trademarks.

Meanwhile, 20 percent said the situation is understandable and the rest offered no opinions.

Lawyer Lin Rencong commented on Sina Weibo, the Chinese twitter-like microblogging site, that the government should work out specific laws and regulations to prohibit such behavior, and authorities should pay more attention to the matter.

The SAIC said that it is considering making a "blacklist" for those who consistently apply for trademark rights with malicious intent.

China's trademark registration volume tops the world, with 10.54 million applications submitted between the enactment of current trademark law on August 23, 1982, and the end of June, 2012, according to figures released by the SAIC.

Trademark disputes are also on the rise. In early July, a Chinese court ruled that Apple Inc. must pay 60 million U.S. dollars to Proview Technology (Shenzhen) for the iPad trademark, as the latter had claimed that the Taipei subsidiary of its Hong Kong-based parent company registered the name in a number of countries and regions as early as 2000.

In February, U.S. basketball icon Michael Jordan sued Chinese sportswear manufacturer Qiaodan Sports Company Limited, which was registered in 2000, due to the "unauthorized use" of his name and identity, as "Qiaodan" is known in China as the Chinese translation for Jordan's name.

Some celebrities' monikers were even registered before they built up their fame. The name of Lin Dan, China's badminton superstar, was registered as a trademark for an animal feed brand in 1997, when Lin was still unknown to the public.

A netizen named "Pan Deng Not Registered Yet" teased via Sina Weibo: "I should immediately register my name in case I get famous some day."