Companies may sue, chamber tells government Business leaders have urged the government to stop selling corporate names as vehicle registration plates, as company names such as HSBC, Ferrari and Sony were auctioned yesterday to a restaurateur for about HK$2 million. In a letter to the Commissioner for Transport, the Hong Kong Chamber of Commerce has urged the government to end a practice which it believes infringes companies' rights to their trademarks. But the government insists the practice is legal, and that it has been approved by its own legal advisers. Secretary for Financial Services and the Treasury Frederick Ma Si-hang said five enterprises had expressed concerns over the issue, but he argued that the sale had been backed by legal opinion from the Department of Justice and he was not worried that the practice infringed the companies' copyright. 'We had already consulted legal opinion when we formulated the scheme. We are confident that the personalised vehicle registration scheme can stand up to [legal] challenges,' Mr Ma said. He also stressed that Alan Wong Chi-kong, the Commissioner for Transport, had the final power to recall any registration plates if these were considered inappropriate. The companies' concerns were raised by the chamber in a letter on Friday, ahead of yesterday's Transport Department auction, in which a restaurateur who identified himself only as Mr Yeung spent about HK$2 million on personalised vehicle registration plates such as 'FERRAR1', 'HSBC' and 'SONY'. In its letter, the chamber said it was worried that, besides infringing copyright, the practice breached the government's own policy of protecting intellectual property rights. If personalised plates were used for commercial purposes, companies could incur substantial damages and might take legal action for compensation, the chamber said. The 'FERRAR1' plate drew yesterday's highest bid - HK$700,000. 'HSBC' ranked second, at HK$500,000. Many other well-known 'brands' also fell into the hands of private collectors. Mr Yeung, who refused to disclose his full name, pocketed 'FERRAR1', 'HSBC' and 'SONY' for his own use. An anonymous bidder sitting alongside Mr Yeung paid HK$30,000 for another famous car brand, 'JAGUAR'. Mr Yeung, the boss of the Golden Delight Seafood Restaurant at the Regal Kowloon Hotel, bought 'TVB' and 'PORSCHE' at last month's auction. 'I am delighted with the bids. I like 'FERRAR1' and 'HSBC' the most,' he said. 'I will rotate these plates on my three cars, like people changing clothes.' He bought 'GOOD DAY' for HK$120,000, 'ALL SKY' for HK$30,000 and 'LOVEU4AF' for HK$15,000. Sino Land, among the companies able to buy their own brands, bought 'S1N0' for HK$170,000 despite heated competition. 'The plate design was from us and we were glad to have it back,' said Tommy Young Nam-kok, the group's associate director (marketing), after he won the bid. 'The price was reasonable, as the proceeds will be used for charitable purposes.' He said there was nothing wrong with allowing the public to bid for company names, which he said was common practice in North America. But a representative from the YMCA, who won the bid for 'YMCA' for HK$70,000, said private bidders should not compete for names with which they had no connection. 'I never thought the competition for 'YMCA' would be so intense,' said Aldrin Leung Yiu-yuen, general manager for the four-star YMCA Salisbury Hong Kong hotel. 'Some people just raised their hands to mark up the price. It is obviously not a healthy phenomenon.' A total of 204 registration numbers were sold yesterday, raising HK$9.3 million for charity.