MAN, Europe's third-largest truck maker, is suing a Chinese bus company in a Beijing court for design patent infringement, the latest foreign firm to turn to the mainland legal system to defend intellectual property rights. Beijing's No1 Intermediate People's Court accepted the case against Zonda Auto Industrial Group, a privately owned carmaker in Jiangsu province, on September 26, MAN executives said. Zonda was unaware of the suit until contacted by the South China Morning Post yesterday, according to Zhou Jianming, the assistant to the company president. Foreign companies, encouraged by a legal victory by Burberry and other luxury brands, are increasingly turning to China's underdeveloped legal system to protect patents and trademarks. Munich-based MAN alleges Zonda produced an exact copy of the exterior design of the Starliner coach, which is made by MAN's Neoplan Bus subsidiary and sold exclusively in Europe for about Euro350,000 (HK$3.4 million) each. Zonda's A9 model, which is sold only in China, was released at a Shanghai car fair six months after the Starliner entered the European market in September 2004. 'It is crystal clear that it's a one-to-one duplication,' said Franz Neundlinger, vice-president of MAN in China. The A9 sells for about 30 per cent the price of a Starliner and Zonda has already produced more than 100 coaches using the design, he said. Zonda said the A9 was not a copy and came from a coach line it had been producing since 1999. 'We have our own design team of around 200 people,' Mr Zhou said. It was common for one producer to learn from another because most popular coach designs are similar, he said. The European Chamber of Commerce in China estimates 91 per cent of the 1,000 companies it represents have been affected by trademark or copyright theft.