- AP News
- Abc News
PEPPA PIG was the target of China's online censors earlier this year
when the pink porcine character for toddlers was coopted by unruly Chinese teenagers as a subversive symbol.
But the popular piglet is also the object of another sort of unwanted attention: the registration of trademarks related to the brand by foreign "squatters",
who hope to benefit as counterfeiters or competitors, or to extract a hefty fee when its true owners lay claim to it.
The cartoon character's British owners said last month that more than 100 Chinese firms have put in applications for Peppa Pig trademarks,
some made years ago, thus in effect blocking its own.
China's "first-to-file" trademark law (as opposed to the "first-to-use" rule in America and Britain, based on the sale of the good or service in question) means
that speedy filings by locals can stop original brand-owners selling in China. Because registrations are cheap, trademark "trolls" file by the hundred.
Dozens of foreign firms have been stung, from Apple (which paid $60m in 2012 to retrieve the right to use its iPad trademark in China) to Viagra,
for which Pfizer, its American manufacturer, still does not own the Chinese-character mark by which it is best known to Chinese.
Now Chinese brands are finding that they too are increasingly targets of foreign squatters.
An investigation commissioned by the China Trademark Association (CTA), a lobby group, into around 300 of its best-known members found
that the trademarks of around a third had been squatted, each in around four countries on average.
The 98 brands owned by Vivo, a smart-maker, were the most widely affected, in 53 countries and regions including America, Brazil, and the EU.
Another victim was Hunan China Tobacco Industry, a cigarette brand squatted in 21 places, from Panama to Indonesia.
The practice is not entirely new: the trademark for the biggest brand of traditional Chinese medicine, Tong Ren Tang,
has been owned by others in Japan, South Korea, America and Europe since the 1980s.
But the CTA claims that malicious squatting of Chinese brands, which are increasingly valuable, has become "professional and large-scale".
In one case last year dozens of toymakers, chiefly from the Chenghai district of Shantou, in southern Guangdong province,
learned that an Indian-Chilean toy merchant in Chile had registered over 300 of their trademarks there, resulting in the blocking of some of their products at customs.
Tianjin Wanda Tyre Group, a tyre firm, had refused to give exclusive distribution rights to a Finnish reseller,
then discovered that its partner had registered Wanda's trademark for its own use in the EU in 2011.