Legislation & Policy

Draft Trademark Examination Guidelines Issued by CNIPA (bilingual)

SIPS Knowledge, Legislation and Policy

On June 11, 2021, the China National IP Administration (CNIPA) issued a draft of its updated Trademark Examination and Review Guidelines (the “Guidelines”) for public comment. It is expected that CNIPA will process public comments quickly and issue a final version of the Guidelines by the end of the summer.

The draft Guidelines – which span over 700 pages – cover all phases of prosecution, including examination, rejections and appeals handled by the Trademark Review and Adjudication Division of CNIPA.

In general, the draft breaks little new ground, and leaves many long-standing problems unaddressed (see below). However, the Guidelines codify a range of positive decisions and practices that have emerged over the last few years and should in this sense be regarded as a positive contribution to trademark practice in China.  The draft Guidelines – like earlier versions – cite case examples throughout, which can be cited by trademark attorneys in their submissions to CNIPA in appeals, oppositions, and invalidations.

Perhaps the most helpful provisions in the draft Guidelines are those relating to bad faith trademark filings.  (See here for SIPS’ latest overview of efforts by the courts and CNIPA to address bad faith filing and trademark warehousing.)

The Good

1. Factors for Determining Similarity of Trademarks

The draft Guidelines explain the principles for assessing similarity between trademarks (Section 2, pages 163-164), including factors that are not inherent to the marks, such as their fame, the degree of attention paid by the public, and the subjective intent of the applicant (helpful in cases involving bad faith filings).

2. Similarity of Marks with Obscure Meanings

The Guidelines suggest that examiners need not regard two marks as similar where their meanings are obscure to Chinese consumers (Section 2, page 181).  This provision should prove particularly helpful where examiners regard two marks as conceptually similar based solely on dictionary entries, but where the Chinese public is less likely to actually know their meanings – and thus less likely to be confused.

3. Well-Known Marks

The Guidelines state that trademark owners will be blocked from enjoying “well-known” status for their marks if they file fraudulent evidence in support of such claims (Section 2, page 328).  They also indicate that parties that have been blacklisted under China’s “social credit” system will be ineligible to enjoy well-known status (Section 2, page 323). (For an explanation of this system as applied to IP matters, see SIPS memo here.)

4. Names of Copyright Works and Characters

The Guidelines codify existing practice by confirming protection for the names of copyright works (such as books or movies) as well as the names of characters within such works (Section 2, pages 365-366).

5. Bad Faith Filings

(a) Case Examples – The Guidelines offer a number of case examples, which will be useful as reference when authorities deal with bad faith filings where the applicant lacks true intention to use (Part 2, Section 2, pages 34-49).  The cases fall under the following categories:

  • Warehousing – Where a trademark applicant has applied for a huge number of trademarks, obviously exceeding the requirements of normal business activities and lacking a real intention to use, thereby disrupting the order of trademark registration;
  • Serial Piracy – Where a trademark applicant has, on a large scale, reproduced, imitated or copied trademarks belonging to multiple entities, the said trademarks possessing a definite degree of fame or being strongly distinctive, thereby disrupting the order of trademark registration;
  • Abusive Filings Targeting One Brand – Where a trademark applicant has filed repeat applications to register the same entity’s specific trademark, the said trademark possessing a definite degree of fame or being strongly distinctive, thereby disrupting the order of trademark registration;
  • Trade Names/Trade Dress, etc. – Where a trademark applicant has filed a large number of applications to register signs that are identical with or similar to commercial signs such as third parties’ business names, abbreviations of business names, e-commerce names, domain names, product names, product packaging and product get-up, as well as third parties’ advertising slogans, external designs, etc., which are famous and have already become recognizable;
  • Famous Names – Where a trademark applicant has filed a large number of applications to register signs that are identical with or similar to public cultural resources such as the name of a famous person, the name of a famous work or role name, or a third party’s work of fine art that is famous and already recognizable;
  • Geographical Names, etc. – Where a trademark applicant has filed a large number of applications to register signs that are identical with or similar to the names of administrative divisions, mountains and rivers, scenic spots, buildings, etc.;
  • Generic/Descriptive Terms – Where a trademark applicant has filed a large number of applications to register non-distinctive signs such as generic names, industry terms, and signs that directly describe the quality, main raw materials, functions, uses, weight, quantity, etc., of the specified goods or services;
  • Trademark Trafficking – Where a trademark applicant has filed a large number of trademark registration applications, and assigned a large number of trademarks to a wide range of assignees, disrupting the order of trademark registration;
  • Extortioners – Where a trademark applicant has engaged in acts such as selling [trademarks] in large quantities with the intent of seeking improper benefits, forcing commercial cooperation from prior users of a trademark, demanding high assignment fees, licensing fees or compensation for infringement, etc.; and
  • Catch-All – Where there are other circumstances that can be viewed as applying to register trademarks in bad faith.

(b) Requests for Evidence from Suspected Bad Faith Filers – The draft gives examiners the authority to request applicants suspected of filing in bad faith to provide evidence of use or an intention to use their marks (Part 3, Chapter 19), including on a bulk basis where the applicant has filed multiple applications at the same time. Where the applicant fails to respond or its evidence is unconvincing, CNIPA may then reject the application.

(c) Assignments – The draft also confirms the authority of CNIPA to reject applications for the assignment of marks registered by bad faith filers (Part 1, Chapter 11, page 166). (See here for a recent SIPS memo commenting on the implications of this change in practice.) It remains unclear whether the TRAD will approve assignments on appeal where the assignee is the legitimate trademark owner or an investigator acting under its instructions. It likewise remains unclear whether CNIPA will be willing to forego rejecting assignments if the genuine trademark owner has informed examiners of its involvement during the initial examination process.

(d) Bad Faith Filing by Related Party – The Guidelines offer additional factors for examiners to consider when determining that the victim brand owner and the applicant/registrant had a relationship for the purposes of Article 15.2 of the Trademark Law (Part 2, Chapter 12, page 347), including geographical proximity, filings by relatives or employees, etc.

(e) Trademark Agents – The Guidelines clarify that a company which is doing trademark agency work may be regarded as a trademark agency for the purposes of Article 19 of the Trademark Law, even if it is not formally recorded as a trademark agency with CNIPA (Part 2, Chapter 13, page 351). Under Article 19 of the Trademark Law of China, trademark agencies are prohibited from registering marks in their own names, except as required to support their own branding needs as a trademark agent.

(f) Limitation of Article 44.1 – The Guidelines discourage examiners from applying Article 44.1 of the Trademark Law in actions targeting “improper registrations” where other provisions in the law may also be relied upon to invalidate or reject a mark. An exception is however offered where bad faith is clearly established (Part 2, Chapter 13, page 377)

6. Collective / Certification Trademarks

The Guidelines confirm that where a party has filed for a collective or certification mark, it is prohibited from filing for the mark as a standard trademark, and vice-versa.

Continuing Concerns

As noted above, the Guidelines do not address a number of long-standing concerns of trademark owners which are briefly explained below. In some cases, CNIPA has likely concluded that the concerns require an amendment to the Trademark Law or the issuance of new administrative regulations.

1. Suspension of Co-Pending Cases

CNIPA only rarely agrees to suspend the examination of applications, appeals, oppositions or invalidations where the outcome is contingent on the outcome of a co-pending case. The exceptions are mainly where CNIPA itself asks a party if it agrees to suspension of examination (a rare request, mainly applied to fresh applications where the cited mark is under non-use cancellation proceedings), or where a change of name or address for cited marks is in progress.  As a result, trademark owners are generally advised to refile applications – in many cases multiple times – and perhaps abandon applications as a means of minimizing costs. It is not clear why CNIPA remains so resistant to expanding the practice of suspending proceedings based on requests from the affected parties, and what benefit is created by ignoring such requests.

2. Inherent Registrability

CNIPA appears to be rejecting applications more often than in years past based on absolute grounds such as perceived non-distinctiveness / descriptiveness or based on perceptions that the mark is possibly deceptive.  Further, the TRAD and courts seem to uphold such decisions in appeal proceedings as a reflex, and without deep consideration of the merits.  Too often, appeal decisions fail to explain the factual basis on which such decisions are reached, and thus appear to ignore extensive evidence of acquired distinctiveness, inherent distinctiveness, and the existence of analogous marks on the register in China as well as abroad.  CNIPA is urged to support its decisions in more detail. Counterfeiting and bad faith registration are very real problems, which can best be addressed by allowing trademark owners to secure registrations.  Arguably, the criteria for inherent registrability should err in favor of applicants, keeping in mind that there are procedures for any party to oppose preliminarily approved applications or to invalidate registered marks at any time.

3. Acquired Distinctiveness and Consent Letters

Contrary to practice in many other countries with similarly-sophisticated examination practices, CNIPA will uniformly reject applications for marks that could easily be deemed registrable with evidence of acquired distinctiveness or where the owner of the cited mark is willing to provide a consent letter.  As a result, such applications can only be pursued to registration through the filing of appeals, which typically take 12 to 18 months.  It is therefore recommended that CNIPA allow applicants to provide evidence of acquired distinctiveness and consent letters during the examination process, rather than only incidental to appeals.

It should be noted in this regard that the draft Guidelines do allow examiners to issue Opinion Letters offering applicants for 3-D marks, sound marks and the like, to provide evidence of acquired distinctiveness, such as evidence of use, sales statistics, etc.  It is hoped that this practice will gradually be extended to cover a wider range of marks that are deemed non-distinctive.

4. Access to Evidence and Opportunity to Comment

At present, petitioners in oppositions and non-use cancellations in the first instance are prohibited from accessing copies of responses by respondents – even in cases where bad faith registration is alleged – and thus have no opportunity to present their observations on such responses.  CNIPA has been encouraged on many occasions to allow access to such submissions.  Doing so is important for ensuring transparency and fairness, as well as for reducing the need for unnecessary appeals.

5. Consolidation and Acceleration of Cases

In practice, it is unusual for CNIPA to handle related cases on a consolidated and accelerated basis, even where bad faith is obvious and the affected trademark owner is suffering significant harm, e.g., through sales of infringing goods by the registry pirate.  CNIPA referred to the possibility of accelerating and consolidating cases in a notice issued in March 2021 focused on bad faith filings.  (See here for details.)  And as noted above, the draft Guidelines also imply that CNIPA may handle related cases filed by bad faith filers on a consolidated basis.  But it is hoped that a future iteration of the Guidelines will provide a clearer basis for supporting such requests by victim brand owners, and not just upon CNIPA’s own determinations.

6. Consent Letters from Related Companies

In cases where a cited mark is identical or nearly identical to the applicant’s mark, but the owners of both marks are commonly owned affiliates, the TRAD has traditionally refused to consider consent letters, treating such cases if the parties were entirely independent.  Companies have legitimate business reasons for having particular marks held by different corporate entities, and the trademark system should adapt its practices to support such business practices rather than attempting to change them without good reason.  It is therefore hoped that CNIPA will consider making corresponding changes in its policies and procedures to allow for approval of such applications.

7. Failure to Respond to Oppositions and Invalidations

Quite often, bad faith filers will refrain from responding to oppositions and invalidations.  By law, CNIPA is obligated to examine such cases and issue a decision, effectively ignoring (at least in the vast majority of cases) the alleged bad faith filer’s failure to respond.  The draft Guidelines do not address this situation and it is hoped that CNIPA will consider assertions of fact by petitioners as true where applicants or registrants fail to respond, as doing so will help to simplify proceedings and deter additional bad faith filings.

 


《商标审查审理标准(征求意见稿)》

2021年7月1日

2021年6月11日,国家知识产权局发布了最新的《商标审查及审理标准(征求意见稿)》(下称“标准”)。预计征求完公众意见后,最终版标准将很快在夏季末正式发布。

此次发布的标准多达700多页,涵盖商标确权的所有阶段,包括由国家知识产权局商标评审部门处理的审查、驳回复审等。

总体来说,标准虽然有很多新的突破,也留下来很多长期存在的问题未解决(参考下文)。标准将过去几年来出现的一系列积极的决定和习惯做法编纂成文,在这个意义上应视为对中国商标实践的积极贡献。标准与以前的版本一样,全文列举了参考案例,可供商标律师引用于其提交至国家知识产权局的复审、异议和无效案中。

也许标准中最有帮助的是关于恶意申请的条款。(SIPS关于中国知识产权局和法院解决恶意申请和商标囤积问题行动的最新概述,请参见此处。)

好的方面

1.判断商标近似的因素——标准解释了判断商标近似的原则(第2节,第163-164页),包括非商标本身所固有的因素,例如商标的知名度、公众关注度以及申请人的主观意图(在涉及恶意申请的案件中有帮助)。

2.含义不明确的商标的相似性——标准建议,如果两个商标的含义对中国消费者来说超出相关公众的一般认知能力(第2节,第181页),审查员不应将它们视为近似商标。当审查员仅仅根据词典条目认为两个商标在含义上是近似的,而中国公众实际上不太可能知道它们的含义,进而不太可能产生混淆时,这一规定将特别有帮助。

3.驰名商标——标准规定,如果商标所有人提交虚假证据以证明其商标知名度,则他们将被禁止申报驰名商标(第2节,第328页)。标准还指出,在“信用中国”系统中具有不良记录的当事人将失去申报驰名商标的资格(第2节,第323页)。(关于“信用中国”系统和知识产权保护的详细说明,请参见此处的 SIPS备忘录。)

4.作品名称权和角色名称权——标准通过整理现有实践,确认了对著作权作品(如书籍或电影)的名称以及该等作品中角色的名称的保护(第2节,第365-366页)。

5. 恶意申请

(a) 案例——标准提供了许多案例,在处理申请人缺乏真实使用意图的恶意申请时,这些案例将具有参考价值(第2节,第34-49页)。案件主要包括以下几种情况:

  • 囤积——商标注册申请数量巨大,明显超出正常经营活动,缺乏真实使用意图,扰乱商标注册秩序的;
  • 系列抢注——大量复制、摹仿、抄袭多个主体在先具有一定知名度或者较强显著性的商标,扰乱商标注册秩序的;
  • 针对某一特定品牌的反复抄袭抢注——商标申请人对同一主体具有一定知名度或者较强显著性的特定商标反复申请注册,扰乱商标注册秩序的;
  • 商号/包装装潢等——大量申请注册与他人企业字号、企业名称简称、 电商名称、域名,有一定影响的商品名称、包装、装潢,他人知名并已产生识别性的广告语、外观设计等商业标识相同或者近似标志的;
  • 知名姓名、名称——商标申请人大量申请注册与知名人物姓名、知名作品或者角色名称、他人知名并已产生识别性的美术作品等公共文化资源相同或者近似标志的;
  • 地理名称——商标申请人大量申请登记与行政区划、山水、风景名胜区、建筑物等名称相同或者类似的标志的;
  • 通用名称/描述性术语——大量申请注册指定商品或服务上的通用名称、行业术语、直接表示商品或服务的质量、主要原料、功能、用 途、重量、数量等缺乏显著性的标志的;
  • 商标买卖——大量提交商标注册申请,并大量转让商标,且受让人较为分散,扰乱商标注册秩序的;
  • 敲诈勒索者——申请人有以牟取不当利益为目的,大量售卖,向商标在先使用人或者他人强迫商业合作、索要高额转让费、许可使用费或者侵权赔偿金等行为的;以及
  • 兜底条款——其他可以认定为有恶意的申请商标注册行为的情形。

(b) 要求恶意申请人提供使用证据——征求意见稿赋予审查员要求涉嫌恶意注册的申请人提供使用证据或意图使用证据的权力(第3部分,第19章),包括申请人同时提交多件申请的情况。如申请人不答复或其提供的使用证据不具有说服力的,可以驳回其注册申请。

(c) 转让——征求意见稿还确认了国家知识产权局有权驳回由恶意申请人提交的注册商标转让申请的权力(第1部分,第11章,第166页)。(有关SIPS最近的备忘录,请参见此处,该备忘录评论了这一变化在实践中的影响。)目前尚不清楚,如果受让人是商标的真正权利人或商标权利人雇佣的调查员,国家知识产权局是否仍旧会驳回此类转让申请。如果真正的商标权利人在最初审查过程中就告知审查员其参与在商标转让过程中,国家知识产权局是否愿意放弃对转让的驳回也尚不明确。

(d) 相关主体的恶意申请——标准提供了供审查人员在根据《商标法》第15条第二款(第2部分,第2章,第347页)确定受害者商标权利人和申请人/注册人是否有关系时考虑的其他因素,包括地理位置接近、亲属或雇员提交申请等。

(e) 商标代理人——标准明确规定从事商标代理的公司,虽未在,但可以视为《商标法》第十九条规定的商标代理(第二部分第十三章,第351页)。我国《商标法》第19条禁止商标代理机构以自己的名义注册商标,但商标代理机构对其代理服务申请商标注册的情况除外。

(f) 四十四条第一款的限制—-标准规定如果针对”不当注册”的案件中能够适用《商标法》的其他条款,则不再适用第四十四条第一款的规定但是,恶意明显的例外 (第2部分,第13章,第377页)。

存在问题

标准并未涉及到商标所有人长期关注的一些问题,下文将做出简要解释。在某些情况下,国家知识产权局可能认为这些问题需要通过修改《商标法》或颁布新的行政法规来解决。

1. 待审案件的暂缓——目前,国家知识产权局很少同意对审查中的注册申请、驳回复审、异议或无效案件的暂缓审理,如果该案的审理结果取决于另一审理中的案件。例外情况一般是国家知识产权局主动询问一方当事人是否同意暂缓(实践中非常罕见,主要适用于引证商标处于撤三、异议或无效环节的新申请),或引证商标的权利人名称或地址正在发生变更。因此,商标申请人为减少费用支出,不得不放弃被驳回的申请,重新提交新申请——在许多情况下不得不多次提交新申请。国家知识产权局仍然如此抵制根据受影响各方的请求扩大暂停审理范围的做法以及拒绝这些请求会带来的好处尚未明确。

2. 商标可注册性——国家知识产权局似乎比往年更经常地基于绝对理由,例如缺乏显著性、具有描述性,或基于对商标可能具有欺骗性的原因来驳回商标申请。此外,商标评审部门和法院似乎条件反射性地在复审和行政诉讼程序中维持这些裁定,缺乏对案情的深入考量。很多情况下,上诉裁定往往未能解释作出这类裁定所依据的事实基础,进而似乎忽视了通过使用获得显著性、固有显著性以及在中国和外国同时存在类似商标的大量证据。国家知识产权局应该用更多细节来支持其裁决。假冒商标和恶意注册是非常现实的问题,最好的解决办法是允许商标所有人获得商标注册。可以说,商标可注册性的标准应该更有利于申请人,因为任何第三方都有程序可以随时对初步审定的申请提出异议或对已注册的商标提出无效宣告。

3. 经使用获得显著性和同意函——与许多其他具有类似审查做法的国家的做法相反,国家知识产权局将统一驳回那些可以很容易地认为是通过使用获得显著性或引证商标所有人同意出具同意函的商标申请。因此,此类申请只能通过提出复审来进行注册,复审通常需要6至8个月。因此,建议国家知识产权局允许申请人在审查过程中提供经使用获得显著性的证据和引证商标所有人出具的同意函,而非仅仅是在驳回复审过程中提供此类证据。

在这方面应当指出的是,《标准》草案确实允许审查员签发审查意见通知书,要求立体商标、声音商标或此类特殊类型的商标申请人提供商标经使用获得显著性的证据,如使用证据、销售统计数据等。希望这一做法可以逐步扩大,以涵盖更广泛的被认为是缺乏显著性的商标。

4. 质证和发表意见的机会——目前,在异议和撤销三年不使用的商标局阶段,没有证据交换环节,即使被申请人是恶意注册的情况下也是如此。因此,申请人没有机会就被申请人的此类答复发表质证意见。我们已经多次建议国家知识产权局允许申请人查看被申请人提供的证据。这样做对于确保透明公正和减少不必要的复审、上诉都非常重要。

5. 并案审理和加速审理——实践中,即使在恶意明显且受影响的商标所有人受到重大损害(如恶意抢注人销售侵权商品)的情况下,国家知识产权局也很少对相关案件进行合并审理和加速审理。国家知识产权局在2021年3月发布了《打击商标恶意抢注行为专项行动方案》的通知,该通知中提到了加速和并案审理的可能性。《标准》草案也表明国家知识产权局将对失信申请人提出的相关案件进行合并处理。我们希望《标准》能为支持受害者品牌所有人的上述请求提供更明确的依据,而不是仅仅依据国家知识产权局自己的认定。

6. 关联公司的同意函——如果引证商标与申请人的商标相同或几乎相同,但两个商标的所有人是关联公司时,商评评审部门一向拒绝考虑同意函,而是将当事人作为完全独立的个体处理。公司具有合法的商业理由让不同关联公司实体持有特定的商标,商标系统应该做出调整来支持此类商业惯例,而不是试图在没有充分理由的情况下改变它们。因此,我们希望国家知识产权局考虑对其政策和程序作出相应的修改,以便能够批准此类申请。

7. 未能对异议和无效作出答辩——很多时候,恶意被申请人对异议和无效并不进行答辩。根据法律,国家知识产权局有义务对此类案件进行审查并作出决定,从而至少在大多数案件中有效地无视恶意被申请人不答辩的情况。《标准》草案对这一情况并未涉及,我们希望国家知识产权局在被申请人未能作出答辩的情况下,考虑认定申请人所声称的事实为真实的,从而简化程序,并阻止更多的恶意申请。