Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, numerous Chinese trademark squatters have surfaced with applications for marks closely related to the pandemic, such as “雷神山” (“Lei-Shen-Shan” in Chinese, which is a hospital built in response to the pandemic), “火神山” (“Huo-Shen-Shan” in Chinese, also meaning a hospital built in response to the pandemic), “方舱” (“Fang-Cang”, which refers to mobile field hospitals), “钟南山” (Zhong-Nan-Shan, a Chinese pulmonologist and the leading advisor in managing the crisis) and “李文亮” (Li-Wen-Liang, the now deceased Chinese Doctor who raised the alarm on early infections in Wuhan). As of March 16, 2020, the China National Intellectual Property Administration (“CNIPA”) officially refused 328 ‘malicious’ applications and approved 866 voluntary withdrawals. A number of trademark agencies have also been handed administrative punishments for assisting with these ‘malicious’ applications.
On 24 March 2021, the Trademark Office of CNIPA announced a “Special Action Plan for Combating Malicious Trademark Squatting”. The primary goal of the Action Plan was stated to be to stop malicious trademark squatting, maintain the order of trademark registration administration, and protect the public interest. The Action Plan outlined ten prohibited activities, described as “acts of malicious squatting, seeking improper interests, disrupting the order of trademark registration management, and causing adverse social impacts”:-
- Maliciously registering the names of national or regional strategies, major activities, major policies, major projects, or major scientific and technological projects;
- Maliciously registering the vocabularies and signs related to public emergencies such as natural disasters, major accidents, major public health incidents and social security incidents, harming the public interests of the society;
- Malicious registering of the names and logos of major events or major exhibitions with high popularity;
- Maliciously registering the names of administrative divisions, mountains, rivers, scenic spots, buildings and other public resources;
- Malicious registering the common names and industry terms of goods or services and other public business resources;
- Malicious registering the names of public figures, well-known works or characters with high popularity;
- Malicious registering others’ trademark or commercial mark with a relatively high reputation or relatively strong distinctiveness, which damages the prior rights and interests of others;
- Obviously violating the prohibited acts of Article 10 of the Trademark Law, or violating public order and good customs, causing significant passive or negative social impact on China’s political, economic, cultural, religious, ethnic and other social public interests and public order;
- If a trademark agency knows or should know that the client is engaged in the above-mentioned conduct, but still accepts his entrustment or disturbs the order of trademark agency by other improper means;
- Other conduct that obviously violates the principle of good faith.
CNIPA is keen to show the public that they are not only aware of but are taking concerted steps in response to the flood of recent ‘malicious’ trade mark applications, the definition of which it would appear can be quite widely interpreted. We look forward to further updates from CNIPA on the progress of this Special Action Plan.