Monday, June 06, 2011

Happy Dragon Boat Festival! Unhappy Trademark Protection for Qu Yuan?

Free interpretation of
 zong zi (glutinous rice).
Traditional zong zi has a triangular form.
Photo Danny Friedmann
Today is the fifth day of the fifth month of the lunar calendar. Time for Duan Wu festival (端午节). On this day Chinese around the world commemorate the great poet Qu Yuan 屈原. Qu is not only famous for his work Chu Ci 楚辞 (58 long and 6 short poems) but also because of his act of patriotism.

Qu, who lived between 340 BCE and 278 BCE, was fed up with the corruption by the local government and in protest drowned himself. (The yoga guru Swami Ramdev was on hunger striking protesting graft, becoming a kind of modern Indian version of Qu, read more about it here.) When the local villagers found out about it, they started to paddle and play the drums to frighten the fish away from Qu's body (this started the tradition of dragon boat races), and throw rice in the water so that the fish would not eat Qu (this lead to the tradition of eating zong zi) and doctors poured liquor seasoned with realgar in the river in the hope to make the fish drunk (first people drank a bit of this poisonous wine, now some parents draw with it the character for king on the forehead of their children).

After seeing and hearing the dragon boat race, eating zong zi, there was only one thing on IP Dragon's mind: has the name Qu Yuan been registered in China? In many classes including food and beverages the name was registered, search here. Joel Martinsen wrote already in 2006 about the fact that Qu Yuan was even registered as a trademark for pig-feed, read here. And to add insult to injury, the company that registered is based in Yueyang, Hunan: the location where Qu committed suicide. This location is disputed by South-Korea who claims that the event's genesis was Korea. Read more about Dano (단오) versus Duan Wu here.

Mr Martinsen asked the question whether the State Administration for Industry and Commerce's Trademark Office that granted the registration of the trademark was too lenient.
Article 10 Trademark Law: "The following signs shall not be used as trademarks:
(8) those detrimental to socialist morality or customs, or having other unhealthy influences.

So the registrar could invoke this provision to reject the registration. It is my opinion that article 10 (1): Trademark Law: "those identical with or similar to the State name, national flag, national emblem, military flag or decorations of the People's Republic of China, and those identical with the name of the particular place, or with the name or image of the symbolic building, where a central government department of the State is located" should be extended to include "or national historical figures", such as Qu Yuan.

In a way Qu Yuan lives on because of the well established traditions of dragon boat races and eating zongzi. Does the prosaic use of the name of the great poet for food, beverage dilute or spread his reputation? That depends. One could imagine it could be enhanced if for example a wine brand would publish some of Qu's poetic phrases (that are from the pre-copyright era and have been always in the public domain) on the wine label. 

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