Christie's has accused a rival of using a name similar to its own to confuse bidders and infringe its trademarks, particularly in the lucrative Chinese market.
The international auction house has complained that the Chritrs Group's brand name in Chinese, Gai Si Dak, is pronounced the same as that of Christie's, and is even written the same in Chinese except for the third character.
Christie's sought unspecified damages and an injunction against the offending party in the High Court yesterday.
Mathilde Heaton, Christie's legal chief, said they sent staff to investigate after the company received an e-mail inquiring if there was a connection between Christie's and Chritrs. Heaton added they were taking action on the mainland. "We take it seriously as we must protect the public and our clients from being confused and deceived."
Heaton said Chritrs was "deliberately" cheating the bidders by using an almost identical brand.
According to Chritrs' website, it has offices in Hong Kong, the mainland and Singapore along with cities such as Taipei, London, Tokyo, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Chritrs changed its name from Chritrs Arts Auction in November last year.
The company last held an auction in Hong Kong in April at the Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai, with a collection of artwork from the Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties. It had another auction in Singapore in June.
Senior barrister Winnie Tam SC, for Christie's, yesterday asked the Court of First Instance to rule in favour of her client without having a full hearing on the grounds that the defendant had no defence.
Madam Justice Queeny Au Yeung Kwai-yue reserved her judgment, which will be handed down at a later date.
The defence argued that although the pronunciation of the two brands was identical, Chritrs' brand was primarily marketed in print form and not verbally.
The lawyers added that the fine-arts bidders were people who had knowledge of the trade and thus were capable of telling the difference between two auction houses.
Driven by expanding wealth, China last year became the world's largest market for art and antiques, accounting for 30 per cent of sales and revenue.