Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Guge Case: Business Name vs Trademark Dispute Or Practical Problem?

On June 29, the Beijing Haidian District People's Court accepted the case of Beijing Guge Science and Technology Ltd. versus Google's subsidiary in China called Guge for disrupting business.

Tian Yunshan, company secretary for Beijing Guge Science and Technology said that he applied the use of the business name 北京谷歌科技有限公司 (Beijing Guge Science and Technology) in March 2006, and opened business on April 19, 2006, said the Beijing News according to Joel Martinsen of Danwei. Read more here.


Google filed as early as January 2006 trademark applications in a variety of areas to register 谷歌信息技术(中国)有限公司 (Gu Ge) with China's Trademark Office of the State Administration for Industry and Commerce (SAIC), Google China said yesterday in an e-mail to Janet Oong of the Shanghai Daily. Read more here.


Beijing Guge Science and Technology asks Google to change its commercial name, because Google failed to be in a phone directory, so they Beijing Guge is flooded by people they think they are Google. Beijing Guge is not asking for damages.


Commercial names can be registered without a search for similar of same names, as is mandatory in case of a trademark search. It seems that Beijing Guge has registered its business name after Google registered its trademark. Actually, it actually could infringe Google's trademark, if it operates in the same line of business.


IP Australia did a very interesting survey in 2005 on the Australian business community's knowledge of the differences between business names and trademarks. The lack of awareness of the differences between the two and misconceptions were rather big. It would not be surprising if this were the case in other places too, including China. I paraphrase IP Australia: Business names are just business signifiers, not a form of entitlement or an active title that is owned exclusively by a business, nor does is confer rights upon and protects its owner. For this you need trademarks. Read more here.


In casu, the problem seems not too hard. Beijing Guge and Google and the phone directory 114 could come up with a practical solution, so Beijing Guge can continue to work. However, the question remains what does Beijing Guge really wants. And why did Tian decline to disclose the main businesses of the company?