Freudenberg wins major trademark case in China

Weinheim/ Beijing. July 6, 2011. A Chinese company had marketed its own seal products under the Freudenberg name since 2002. Now the Trademark Review Board of State Administration for Industry and Commerce in Beijing has decided in favor of the Freudenberg Group, of Weinheim, Germany. The Chinese company is not allowed to register the name “Freudenberg” as a trademark because such registration will infringe the prior rights of Freudenberg Group and confuse the market. With more than 4,500 employees in China, sales of about CNY 3.27 billion in 2010 and 70 closely linked facilities, including 21 production plants, the Group supplies its customers with tailor-made solutions meeting the highest quality requirements. Freudenberg has been active in China for more than 100 years and places considerable value on service and reliability. Especially against this backdrop, it is important that only Freudenberg products should be marketed under the Freudenberg name.

Recently, the Chinese government has repeatedly announced its intention to ensure better protection for intellectual property within the country. At the end of 2010, the State Intellectual Property Office published its "National Patent Development Strategy (2011-2020)". The objective of the strategy is to make patent application, granting, -protection and management procedures in China more stringent by 2020.

The Freudenberg Group has now been successful in its trademark dispute with a company located in the province of Zhejiang, which has continued for many years. The Trademark Review Board of State Administration for Industry and Commerce Office in Beijing refused to register the Freudenberg name as a trademark for the Chinese company. "This means that we are allowed to use ‘Freudenberg’ as a trademark in China," said Dr. Wolfgang Schmid, Deputy Head of the Corporate Legal Function at Freudenberg & Co.

In 2002, the Chinese company had applied to register the "Freudenberg" name as a trademark in China for trademark class no. 17. This class includes rubber and rubber products, such as sealing materials, the production of which is part of the core business activities of Freudenberg. There are 45 international classes. Freudenberg had become aware of the problem because the company was producing and marketing sealing products under the names of "NOK" and "cFw" (an abbreviation for "Carl Freudenberg Weinheim") without holding appropriate licenses.
After Freudenberg had unsuccessfully requested the Chinese company to stop using the Freudenberg name, the Group submitted an official appeal against the registration of the Freudenberg name by the company. The costly and complex proceedings continued for many years. One key item of evidence was a single surviving copy of a 1997 product catalog issued by NOK-Freudenberg Group China, which proved that the Group had already used "Freudenberg" as a trademark in China at an earlier date. Freudenberg was supported by a number of bodies and authorities including the German Embassy, the German Chamber of Commerce as well as the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China.

The decision by the Trademark Review Board of State Administration for Industry and Commerce Office in Beijing is very important for the Freudenberg Group as it supports the further development of the Freudenberg brand strategy and should have a positive effect on other trademark disputes in China currently in progress. "This decision also shows that the protection of intellectual property is becoming considerably more important in China," Schmid explained. This development will make China more attractive to investors. "This case shows just how important it is to handle trademark and patent matters very carefully in an international context and document them in detail," said Hanno D. Wentzler, Regional Representative of the Freudenberg Group in China und CEO of Freudenberg Chemical Specialities.