The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago – the second best is now

23.5.2016

The Finnish media recently carried the story of a Chinese company that had registered the Minna Parikka brand name in China, leading Minna Parikka to wage a long legal battle of several years. Depending on the media, the language used on the subject was pretty colorful. The media spoke about a “stolen” or “hijacked” brand.

Unfortunately Minna Parikka is not the only Finnish enterprise to find itself in this situation – there have been numerous cases.

So why has this happened? Surely we can blame the Chinese and the fact that IPRs are not respected in China. Can’t we even call a Chinese company that has registered a brand according to Chinese Law a hijacker?  But what if instead we took a look in the mirror and pondered why we got ‘caught with our pants down?’

I am not trying to suggest that Western brands are not copied in China, nor that IPR infringements are not more frequent there than in the average Western country, nor even that notorious “hijackers” do not exist in China. Yes, they exist and this is common knowledge.

That’s why one cannot but wonder why such an important brand was left to the mercy of hijackers.

Many companies have left their brand unprotected through simple negligence; others have wanted to save on costs. But in many cases it’s been the result of a misguided attitude. When I discuss protection issues in China I frequently hear the same comment: “There’s no use protecting anything in China when the locals don’t respect IPRs.”

But it’s in these circumstances that the importance of protection becomes even more pronounced, because the registration of a brand is practically the only, or at least by far the most cost-effective, way of legally protecting it.

It is also crucial to understand that brand registration in China provides the owner a very strong right of rejection. The owner of a Chinese brand has in his legal tool box, for example, a ban on exportation. In other words, the owner of a Chinese registration can prevent the exporting of goods made in China but aimed at, say, the Finnish markets.

Although the risk of being copied in China is probably higher than in many other countries, the notion of the lack of legal protection of industrial property rights there does not always hold true. China has modern laws comparable with Western ones and foreign companies there enjoy protection in enforcing their rights. It’s also fair to say that a brand protected in Asia, which has not been protected nor used in Finland, is basically leaving itself open for registration here by a third party – in other words fair game – in the same way that a non-registered Western brand is open in China. And let’s face it, court cases are long and expensive everywhere.

So instead of wailing take action! Don’t let your brand be hijacked. If you haven’t done so already, it’s not too late to give your brand the proper protection it deserves!

According to a Chinese proverb: “The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second best is now.”

Jussi Mikkola, European Trademark Attorney, April 2016

You can read the blog in Finnish, Paras aika istuttaa puu oli kaksikymmentä vuotta sitten – toiseksi paras aika on nyt , at the Federation of Finnish Enterprises website:

About the writer

MIKKOLA JUSSI
European Trademark Attorney
+358 50 377 1421