What's in a name is something that a lot of us ask ourselves regularly, but for big corporations all over the globe, a lot of money rests in a name. After all, a unique name, trademark and branding is one of the easiest and most important ways to separate your product offerings from someone else's. Big consumer electronics brands like "Apple" and "Samsung" could arguably trade on their name alone, but there's no denying that their brand presence and recognition play a massive part in their success. In the West, trademarks and trade dress are well protected – and as the two previously mentioned names can attest to – fiercely defended using litigation. In China however, things aren't quite as regulated or tightly controlled.
This is what makes Facebook's recent win in China so important. A drinks company in 2011 filed a trademark application to brand certain drinks "face book", and the Beijing Municipal High People's Court has now found this invalid. The application, made by Zhongshan Pearl River Drinks has been deemed an act of copying and reasoned that it could harm fair competition. This is interesting for a few reasons, not least of all because Facebook is currently blocked by the "Great Firewall" of China, but also because Apple recently suffered a loss over their "iPhone" trademark. In that particular case, the Chinese authorities sided with the leather accessory manufacturer, allowing them to name certain products "IPHONE". Facebook was founded back in 2004 in the United States, and expanded to the rest of the would over the following years, but the service is currently blocked in China. The trademark application from the drinks company was for "face book" which is a similar technicality to "IPHONE" vs "iPhone", but the Chinese authorities sided with Facebook this time around.
It's an interesting case, but one that will no doubt be pleasing to Facebook, which allows them to defend their brand identity. It's possible that this case was decided in Facebook's favor due to the low-profile nature of the case and that the trademark in question was about an entire company's name, not just a single product as with the iPhone case. Regardless, Facebook have been handed a small win by the Chinese courts, and this could be a sign of more positive things to come.