Companies worried about protecting their intellectual property in China can take heart from a recent decision of the Chinese court. German firm Neoplan Bus GmbH has successfully sued the Chinese automotive group Zonda for infringement of a Chinese registered design relating to a bus. The registration was found valid and Neoplan was awarded nearly US$3 million in compensation. A number of earlier attempts by vehicle manufacturers to enforce registered designs in China had not been so successful. Therefore, this decision provides reassurance that foreign companies can succeed in protecting their IP in China.
However, it is vital to recognise that designs can only be successfully protected in China by registration. Furthermore, the registration must be applied for before any disclosure of the design. This is in stark contrast to the UK and Europe where some unregistered design rights exist and where registration can be applied for up to 12 months after first disclosure of the design.
Registering designs in China is a relatively inexpensive and fast procedure. Furthermore, from October 2009 multiple design applications will be possible, allowing a number of different designs to be covered by a single application. This will make Chinese design registration even more cost-effective.
Therefore, companies manufacturing or marketing in China should carefully consider whether design registration is appropriate for their products and seek registration early.