An Australian startup business has had its trademark stolen in China even before it has begun producing any products.
Tori Best spent months creating her Farmer Brown’s label with the intention of selling dairy products in Australian and Chinese supermarkets.
She registered the trademark in Australia but when she tried to register it with the China Trademark Office, she found the name and her flying cow logo had already been registered by a Chinese company.
“It was identical. They were so fast,” Ms Best said.
“We had it designed by an in-house studio in Melbourne, a well-known production company, and they came up with the cow and the way it looks.”
Further research revealed a Chinese website, Fujian Province AuMake, was already selling ice cream with the identical Farmer Brown’s logo and claimed to be made from 100 per cent Australian milk.
Ms Best believed the brand was leaked after her husband sent it to a business associate for advice.
“It wasn’t advertised in the public domain so it was within the networks John had established, not someone he deals with directly,” she said.
“We were going to look at exporting milk and ice cream products to China. The push was to align ourselves with manufacturers in Australia.”
The company that lodged the Farmer Brown’s trademark in China, Putian City Federation Trading Company, is linked by one of its shareholders to the Chinese website, Fujian Province AuMake.
‘Brand pirates’ stockpiling hundreds of trademarks
Australian winemaker Mark Arnold almost lost his Picarus wine label to the same company.
“We were tipped off and managed to lodge our claim one day earlier,” Mr Arnold said.
But he said he did not manage to save another wine label, Ocean Grove, which he cannot now sell in China.
“You go to all the effort of developing a product and a brand and to find out someone else has taken ownership of it in any market is a major shock,” he said.
“I think there needs to be an awareness that this occurs, and I think the Australian Government needs to realise that this is a problem, and it is going to become an increasing problem, unless steps are taken to do something about it.”
Ms Best was fortunate to discover the trademark claim within the three-month opposition phase and has challenged the lodgement.
Her Hong Kong-based lawyer, Dan Plane, said China’s first-to-file laws made trademark squatting a common practice.
“There are pirates out there who will literally stockpile hundreds of trademarks,” he said.
“It’s not overly expensive and then they just sit back and wait for the owner of the mark to come forward and hope for a return on their investment.”