Local mooncake brand Wing Wah could be forced out of the mainland market if it loses a trademark battle in the country's highest court.
The case, being heard in the Supreme People's Court, involves a dispute between the 62-year-old Hong Kong firm and Guangdong businessman Su Guorong over the use of the "Wing Wah" trademark and product design on the mainland
It dates back to the 1990s when Su secured the right to use two trademarks on the mainland. He acquired a rounded logo of Wing Wah, written in simplified Chinese characters, from a Shandong sweet factory and registered a trademark, "Wing Wah Moon", in the traditional characters used in Hong Kong.
The Hong Kong company, which entered the mainland market in the 1980s, was unable to register a trademark in the name "Wing Wah" as others had already done so. But in 1994 it succeeded in trademarking its package design of two flowers blossoming in front of a full moon.
The dispute has dragged on through various courts in the past two decades. In 1999, Foshan city court ruled that Su, by copying the Hong Kong brand's full moon design, infringed the latter's trademark. In response, Su changed the design of his packaging. In 2006, the Hong Kong company noticed that a manufacturer in Zhongshan city, authorized by Su, was producing mooncakes in boxes with a design resembling its own.
The two parties again locked horns in the Dongguan city court and the Guangdong high court; both ruled that Su could continue to use the name "Wing Wah" but not in designs identical to the Hong Kong brand. Su secured a retrial in the Supreme People's Court, demanding the full right to use the trademark in whatever designs he wants.
If the court rules in Su's favour, Hong Kong's Wing Wah will be banned from selling the festive treat under its name on the mainland and risks losing hundreds of millions of dollars. The company says half of its mooncake sales revenue comes from the mainland.
"Many [Hong Kong] businesses are bruised and wounded when they do business on the mainland," Wing Wah co-founder Lau Pui-ling said, adding he felt wronged by Su's legal attempts.
Wen Xu, a lawyer representing Lau's company, said there were conflicting laws over protection of a brand name.
There is no consensus on who should have the final say: a person who registered a trademark or someone who has used a specific design for a long time with no registration.