This morning I got this picture of Taiwanese cigarettes with the name Longlife. The picture is made by CH from Mobimania in Xiamen, China. First question. Is Longlife a trademarked brand in Taiwan? And what about China?
If you type in "Longlife" in to the search engine of Taiwan's Intellectual Property Office (TIPO) you will find that there actually are several trademarks for cigarettes with the mark Longlife, the trademark holder is Taiwan Tabacco and Liquor Corporation. The registrations were published in 2003 and the exclusive right period is until 2013.
Of course it is pretty counterintuitive that a trademark for cigarettes with the name Longlife exists at all. If we look in Taiwan's Trademark Act 2003 we can find arguments for objections against granting this trademark:
Article 23: A trademark application shall be rejected if the proposed trademark satisfies any of the following:
Article 23 (7) 10. One that violates against public order or good morals;
Article 23 (7) 11. One that is likely to mislead the public with respect to the nature, quality, or place of origin of the designated goods or services;
However, if one reads more about the brand, it becomes clear that the brand was already used in 1959, when most people didn't know that cigarettes kill. If you read about the history of this brand, you learn a lot about the history of Taiwan. The brand was set up by the monopoly bureau: "The monopoly bureau chose Long Life as an auspicious name when the cigarette was first introduced in 1959, and never intended to suggest any health benefit, Mr. Chan said. ''No smoker will buy the cigarettes because they believe it will bring long life,'' he said." The same monopoly bureau traded in opium, until the international pressure became too big in the 1930s. Read a great article about it by Keith Bradsher for the New York Times, here.
In 2002 when Taiwan joined the World Trade Organisation it changed the structure of the monopoly bureau into a state-owned company called Taiwan Tabacco & Liquor (TTL) Corporation. So the Taiwan state has both an interest in public health issues and the sale of cigarettes at the same time. That is more yin and yang for most to stomach. The intention was in 2006, however, to privatise the TTL Corporation in 2007 (sole stakeholder was the Ministry of Finance). Whether this happened yet, I don't know yet
The TTL Corporation has great ideas about expansion to Asia, including China. : "TTL will first have to settle the issue of its trademark in China, which has been stalled since 1999. TTL applied to register two trademarks in the PRC under the name Taiwan Beer. Both of the applications were rejected by China's trademark office. TTL appealed the decisions, but lost the appeals. China's trademark law states that geographical names cannot be in a trademark. In spite of this, a number of Chinese products have geographical names, such as Tsingtao Beer. Lai said the name "Taiwan Beer" was used since the company was founded and has been registered in the United States and Europe." Read more in Annie Huang's article for the Taiwan Journal here.So TTL Corporation has problems with getting a trademark for Taiwan Beer, but it is unclear whether TTL Corporation ran into troubles when it applied for Longlife trademarks in China. If we look at China's Trademark Law 2001 the Trademark Office could have made objections based on article 10: The following signs shall not be used as trademarks:
Article 10 (7): those having the nature of exaggeration and fraud in advertising goods; and
Article 10 (8): those detrimental to socialist morals or customs, or having other unhealthy influences.
Quote du jour
The prolific Duncan Bucknell of the Global IP Strategy company Duncan Bucknell Company made the following Australian dry comment about Longlife's trademark: "Well it's certainly not descriptive." Duncan gives his analysis about counterintuitive names as a trademark strategy on IP Thinktank, read here.
Read more about TTL Corporation's strategy to sell their cigarettes in China by Wang Men-lun for the Taipei Times here.