Tobacco company's use of telescope name as trademark 'may not constitute infringement'

By Huang Lanlan Source: Global Times Published: 2020/8/11 2:44:17

An aerial view of the world’s largest radio telescope FAST (Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope) in Pingtang county, Southwest China’s Guizhou Province in March, 2019. Photo: IC

Media coverage of a Chinese tobacco maker that registered the nickname of China's Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope (FAST) as a trademark for its cigarette products caused public anger on Monday, but the registration may not constitute a trademark infringement, legal experts told the Global Times.

The Hongyunhonghe Tobacco Group in Southwest China's Yunnan Province has been producing cigarettes with the brand name Tianyan for two years since it registered the name as a trademark in 2017, Beijing-based newspaper Science and Technology Daily reported on Monday.

Tianyan, or "Sky eye," is the nickname for the Chinese telescope project, which is the world's largest single-dish radio observatory. Operation of the project was officially started in January by China's National Astronomical Observatories (NAOC). The NAOC sent a lawyer's letter to the tobacco company on the trademark issue but hasn't received any response, Science and Technology Daily reported.

The application and use of Tianyan as a trademark doesn't necessarily constitute infringement from the legal perspective, said intellectual property (IP) lawyer Zhang Bo. "China's Trademark Law doesn't literally ban this word from being registered or commercially used," he told the Global Times on Monday.

Nonetheless, the tobacco company's registration may have violated "the principle of good faith" in the Trademark Law and misled customers by using the name of a world-leading scientific and technological project, Zhang said.

Therefore, the NAOC can apply to have the trademark declared invalid, he added.

On Hongyunhonghe's website, the Global Times saw a photo of the controversial cigarette product, which has the Chinese word "Tianyan" and image of nebulas on its pack. The company bluntly states on its website that this product was named after FAST to "commemorate its spirit of pursuing excellence and keeping improving."

On Chinese social media, netizens criticized the company for discrediting FAST. "The word 'Tianyan' refers to the world's biggest telescope, which is a source of pride for Chinese people," a Weibo user wrote on Monday. "It shouldn't be used as the name for something that is unhealthy."

China's Trademark Law, which bans the use of the name, national flag, national emblem and national anthem of the People's Republic of China as well as names of some international organizations such as the Red Cross from being used as trademarks, hasn't set limits on the names of China's national major science and technology projects, Zhang said.

Zhang suggested the law could include national-level projects like FAST. "It can regulate the names of these projects as a sort of public resource shared by the whole of society, and ban commercial registration of the names," he said.


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