Monday, July 9, 2007

Ferrari is Famous, But Is the Horse Too?

The Beijing 1st Intermediate Court was called to decided whether the picture of the horse corresponding to the Ferrari trademark is a famous trademark. And it decided that it is not, therefore not entitled to protection that the Ferrari trademark has in China.

Ferrari’s “horsing” saga with a Chinese trademark registrant started back in 1996. A Chinese department in Guangzhou, White Clouds Sports Merchandise (“While Clouds”), sought to register a trademark with a picture of a horse for use in selling a line of clothing on April 1, 1995. When the Chinese Trademark Office published the prospective trademark for public opposition on September 7, 1996, Ferrari filed a timely opposition to the registration, claiming that the trademark at issue would cause confusion among consumers with respect to the emblematic Ferrari horse. The Chinese Trademark Office did not buy Ferrari’s argument, citing that White Clouds registered the graphic of the horse first.

Ferrari appealed to the trademark review board. It advanced the argument that both the Ferrari with the horse graphic trademark and the horse graphic alone constitute famous trademarks; therefore, the registration sought by the opponent, if granted, would cause confusion among consumers. Unfortunately to Ferrari, the review board affirmed the trademark office’s decision. Ferrari then brought its battle to the people’s court for relief.

In the Court, Ferrari averred that the Ferrari, along with the graphic of the horse which is closely tied to the Ferrari mark, should enjoy protection as famous trademarks because the Ferrari trademark has become well known around the world, and it has also gained considerable familiarity among Chinese consumers. However, the Court flatly rejected Ferrari’s claim of fame for its heroic horsy. It states three reasons:
1. Ferrari failed to provide evidence of the use and advertisement relative to the trademark at issue, meaning the “horse.” Ferrari proffered evidence supporting the famous status of a related trademark—“Ferrari”, but that is not sufficient to prove that that the mark in question is entitled to protection as requested.
2. China has established an independent system to recognize famous trademarks. The recognition of “Ferrari” as a famous trademark does not equate to the recognition of the horse graphic.
3. The focal issue in the suit is not the Ferrari trademark; rather it is the “horse” graphic. The “horse” cannot be bootstrapped to the Ferrari trademark for like protection.

After more than ten years of trekking in the Chinese legal system, Ferrari got a disappointing verdict. Hopefully, Ferrari got something else too, a lesson to register its trademark, related trademarks as early as possible. Oh, do some advertising on the horse as well, in China!