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trademark

PROTECTING TRADE: AJ Park lawyers Lynell Tuffery Huria, Anton Blijlevens, and John Hackett with Callaghan Inovation customer advisor Phil Anderson. Picture by Paul Rickard.

Callaghan Innovation and Activate Tairawhiti are keen for the region’s companies to know what may be available to them — basic ‘freedom to operate’ and patent searches, for example, can be undertaken using Callaghan Innovation’s Getting Started grant. This funds 40 percent of the cost up to $5000 for eligible companies.

Jo Emerre, Activate Tairawhiti

Register to avoid trademark issues

7 June 2016, Andrew Ashton, The Gisborne Herald.

Local exporters have been told China has good intellectual property laws now but a big issue with ‘trademark squatters’.

GISBORNE-based wine and food exporters have been urged to register their brand names in China — or risk the possibility of having their brands and logos hIjacked by money-grabbing “trademark squatters”.

Speaking during a visit to Gisborne, where he spoke to East Coast businesses interested in learning more about what it takes to succeed in China, patent lawyer Anton Blijlevens said anyone even considering exporting to China over the next three years should already have registered company trademarks to avoid being the target of trademark squatters.

“You need to register your trademark in China, and that’s one of the biggest messages.

“There is a big problem in China around trademark squatting — a little bit like domain name squatting of the 1990s, where people were registering IBM.com and then selling it back to them.

“In China, and many other parts of the world, it’s legal for someone to register a trademark for a well-known brand — and if they are the first to file that trademark in China then they have the rights to it. China is a civil law country and there it’s first to register a trademark, whereas in New Zealand and the US it’s the first to use those rights. So, even though you might be using a trademark or brand in China, if you haven’t registered it and someone else does it, they can stop you from branding your product.

“There are quite a few wine labels in New Zealand that can no longer sell their brand of wine in China because someone else has the rights to it. So, they have to re-brand or they have to pay a lot of money to these trademark squatters to buy the trademark back.

“What we’ve seen is that opportunists in China are searching the world for brands and registering the trademark, in the hope that eventually that brand will come to China and they can ask for serious money.

“We’ve heard of individual squatters sitting on up to 700 Chinese trademarks, waiting for them to come to China.”

Mr Blijlevens said counterfeit products were still a problem in China but enforcement of laws was very good.

“New Zealand is starting to export more and more to China . . . it’s our biggest trading partner now, so more and more companies are asking about what they need to do to protect their brand in China, protecting their intellectual property and trade secrets.

“It’s a little bit different to the rest of the world. The IP laws in China are really good, they used to be weak — and that’s the perception that we’re trying to bust. People say they are never going to bother registering trademarks there because they expect to get ripped off anyway, but now the registration process in on a par with the rest of the world.

“New Zealand companies have been going to China to get stuff made for many years but now there is a growing domestic market in China for New Zealand-made products. The Chinese middle-class is growing, they are concerned about health and well-being and can afford to buy more expensive food. They are turning to New Zealand for safe and reliable, good-quality food and beverage.

“Most of the companies we work with, including those from Gisborne and the Hawke’s Bay region, are the food and beverage manufacturers. Particularly wine and seafood.”

Wine in particular was a growing market in China but domestic products were catching up on quality compared to New Zealand/Western goods.

“Again, it’s the growing middle class in China and they are wanting to be seen to be like the West. They want to be seen drinking quality wine, it’s a prestige thing.

“We were in Shanghai and paid $200 for a bottle of New Zealand wine that sells here for $30.

“For international brands, it’s kind of now or never because just like here, the Chinese prefer to buy local. If there is good, safe, reliable product — and there is now — they will buy China-made.”

Mr Blijlevens was in Gisborne with other representatives of law firm AJ Park to conduct two free seminars on intellectual property and doing business in China.

About 50 people attended the seminars, which were organised by Activate Tairawhiti in partnership with AJ Park and Callaghan Innovation.

Regional Business Partner and Activate Tairawhiti innovation specialist Jo Emerre said the business community had embraced the chance to learn more about doing business in China.

“Having experts from AJ Park Ltd come in-region to speak to our local innovators is gold — and businesses have embraced the opportunity, with good numbers coming along to listen and learn. These two seminars promise to deliver enormous value to local businesses, both in terms of the information they’ll provide and also the follow-on possibilities around accessing funding.

“Callaghan Innovation and Activate Tairawhiti are keen for the region’s companies to know what may be available to them — basic ‘freedom to operate’ and patent searches, for example, can be undertaken using Callaghan Innovation’s Getting Started grant. This funds 40 percent of the cost up to $5000 for eligible companies.”

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