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Background Information for Local and Foreign News Media (I)

  • Date:2006-01-19

Names of Taiwan’s tea-producing areas have been registered in China as trademarks and Taiwan’s responses

Mainland Affairs Council January 19, 2006

1. Some people in China have registered the names of Taiwan’s tea-producing areas as trademarks therefore seriously undermining the rights and interests of tea farmers and tea merchants in Taiwan. Based on our understanding, trademark infringement of Taiwanese agricultural products in China is a serious issue. Aside from tea, the trademarks for Chih-shang rice, Ku-keng coffee, and Hsinchu rice noodles and gongwan meatballs have also been registered in China. The relevant government agencies have taken the trademark infringement issue seriously and have actively adopted countermeasures in response.

2. Based on our investigations, there have been seven trademark registration cases involving unauthorized use of names of Taiwan’s tea-producing areas. The list includes: Shan-lin-hsi, Jade Mountain, Li Shan, Sun Moon Lake, A-li-shan, Hsitou, and Lu-ku. The Lu-ku case is still pending a decision; the Lu-ku Township officials will request a law firm to file a protest to the relevant Chinese authorities. Four of the cases (Li-shan, Sun Moon Lake, A-li-shan, and Lu-ku) were registered by Taiwanese companies, while three others (Shan-lin-hsi, Jade Mountain, and Hsitou) were registered by Chinese agencies.

3. China’s trademark infringement of the names of Taiwan’s tea-producing areas has left serious aftereffects. The fraudulent use of Taiwanese tea trademark to sell Chinese tea has infringed upon the popular market of Taiwanese tea leaves. In addition, Chinese regulations stipulate that if the product origin shown on the packaging of Taiwanese tea leaves sold in China is similar to the trademarks registered in China, then this would constitute illegal sale of commodity. This has seriously infringed upon the basic rights and interests of the Taiwanese tea industry and tea farmers.

4. According to international conventions and the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Agreement on Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), famous place names of foreign countries are not allowed to be registered as trademarks, nor can geographical indications be registered as trademarks if they would mislead the public. China’s apparent disregard for the Taiwanese tea industry and tea farmers’ rights and interests has led to a rush of trademark infringement of Taiwanese agriculture products in China. In the preparatory conference for the second Koo-Wang meeting, the Taiwan side already included the protection of intellectual property rights on the agenda. However, since China has deliberately refused to engage in subsequent negotiations, the related issues cannot be resolved through any negotiations.

5. The Executive Yuan and the Legislative Yuan are very concerned with the trademark infringement issue occurring in China and the losses of tea farmers. Premier Frank Hsieh instructed on January 4, 2006 that the Council of Agriculture (COA) and the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) should launch protest against China and adopt legal action to protect the rights and interests of the farmers. Moreover, Legislator Lin Yun-sheng held a public hearing and a press conference on January 5 and January 16, 2006 respectively. Lin proposed recommendations to the executive agencies on what countermeasures to take.

6. COA’s Agriculture and Food Agency invited related government agencies to hold a conference on January 17, 2006 to discuss countermeasures. MAC, the Bureau of Foreign Trade under the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA), MOEA’s Intellectual Property Office were invited, as well as other relevant county governments and township farmers’ associations. It was decided at the conference that the government and civic agencies will work hand in hand. On the one hand, MAC will request the Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) to demand in writing that China’s Trademark Bureau of the State Administration for Industry and Commence revoke the improperly registered trademarks. On the other hand, a representative from the Taiwan Tea Merchants’ Association (TTMA) will proceed to China to submit an application for an administrative relief to revoke the trademarks. If necessary, the matter will be resolved by legal means or through the WTO. COA will also subsidize the related expenses for taking such an action.

7. With regard to trademark infringement of Taiwanese agricultural products’ origin names, MAC has convened an internal policy-making conference on January 18, 2006 and has since adopted the following measures:
(1) MAC wrote SEF on January 18, 2006 requesting it to immediately contact its Chinese counterpart the Association for Relations across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS) to urge the relevant Chinese agencies to revoke improperly registered trademarks. This is aimed at protecting the rights and interests of Taiwan’s tea farmers. MAC will continue to collect related information as well as the opinions of the farmers. SEF will convey to the relevant Chinese agencies in writing and urge China to seriously deal with these issues that have infringed upon the rights and interests of the Taiwanese farmers.
(2) MAC Vice Chairman Johnnason Liu will convene a meeting soon with the relevant agencies to discuss comprehensive countermeasures as well as arrange the division of labor to deal with the issue of trademark infringement of Taiwan’s agricultural products’ origin names. At the same time, MAC will also request COA to exert all efforts to assist TTMA in negotiating with China.
(3) MAC will consult with legal experts for their professional assessments and opinions regarding this case. MAC will actively plan and promote the resumption of the long-delayed cross-strait negotiations on intellectual property rights.