China: record foreign sports brand infringement award

By Prof Dr Ian Blackshaw

A Chinese Court in the City of Suzhou, west of Shanghai, last week, awarded the US Sportswear Firm, New Balance, 10 million yuan (£1.2 million; US$1.5 million) in damages after three local shoemakers were found to have infringed their iconic slanting ‘N’ Logo trademark.

Although not a high award by international standards, it is believed to be the biggest award made, to date, in China to a foreign company for a trademark infringement.

It is reported that the sale of counterfeit merchandise is not only widespread in China, but is carried on openly.

However, since joining the WTO (World Trade Organization) in 2001, China has been tightening up its Trademark Laws, which hitherto have provided little protection to brand owners, especially foreigners, against infringers. These legal reforms include the awarding of punitive damages against repeat infringers; and the setting up of four special IP Courts to deal with cases.

New Balance has more than two thousand retail stores in China and is no stranger to trademark battles in China. This latest legal victory is seen not only as triumph for New Balance, but also as a milestone for foreign firms doing business in China and wishing to protect their valuable brands.

According to Carol Wang of the Lusheng Law Firm, that represented New Balance in these Court proceedings, this award “sends a strong and powerful message that should make it easier for foreign brands doing business here.”

Let us hope that her prediction proves to be right, especially in relation to the legal protection in China of valuable sports brands!

Prof Dr Ian Blackshaw may be contacted by e-mail at ‘ian.blackshaw@orange.fr’