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Facebook wins China trademark case

Facebook logo Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Facebook is blocked but its name is not up for grabs in China

A Beijing court has ruled in favour of Facebook and against a Chinese company which had registered "face book" as a separate trademark.

The court said the firm had "violated moral principles" with "obvious intention to duplicate and copy from another high-profile trademark".

The Zhongshan Pearl River company had registered the name in 2014.

Facebook is blocked in China but has recently gone on a charm offensive to access the Chinese market.

The court statement - released on 28 April but not widely covered in English - has led Chinese local media to speculate whether Beijing's hardline stance against Facebook might soften.

During a recent visit to China, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg met with China's propaganda chief Liu Yunshan as well as fellow media guru Jack Ma.

In what critics described as a publicity stunt to win China's favour, he also went for a run on Beijing's Tiananmen Square despite heavy pollution.

Trademark woes

Western companies are frequently struggling to have their trademarks upheld in China as they have to prove that their brand name is also well known within the country.

Only last week, Apple lost a trademark fight in China, meaning firms that sell handbags and other leather goods can continue to use the name "IPHONE".

Image copyright Apple / Xintong Tiandi
Image caption Xintong Tiandi is free to use the name 'IPHONE' on its leather goods (right)

Xintong Tiandi trademarked "IPHONE" for leather products in China in 2010.

Apple filed a trademark bid for the name for electronic goods in 2002, but it was not approved until 2013.

Mark Armitage, a trademark lawyer at intellectual property firm Withers & Rogers, said there had been a change in attitude about intellectual property rights in China in recent years.

"This appears to have been a case of 'squatting', which ... involves a Chinese company registering the name of a high-profile Western business in order to benefit by forcing the company to either buy it back or take the matter to court," he said.

"This ruling demonstrates that courts are beginning to take this problem seriously. This is all the more interesting, as Facebook is currently barred from operating in China."

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