Uncle Xi Jinping spared comparison with dessert as Chinese court rejects appeal over blocked brand name

Ruling dismisses final attempt to register brand similar to Chinese president’s name, saying proposed trademark ‘likely to create bad influence’

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 July, 2018, 8:02pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 05 July, 2018, 11:02pm

A Chinese businessman has failed in his final legal appeal to register a trademark for his dessert brand “Diao Dada”, a name that in Chinese characters is almost identical to a common reference to President Xi Jinping.

Hubei businessman Diao Shiping argued that his brand was derived from his surname and bore no resemblance to “Xi Dada”, but Beijing’s high court said it had to consider “China’s political, economic and cultural reality”.

It ruled that Diao’s brand was “likely to create a negative social influence” and upheld the rulings of the government trademark board and a lower court.

In simplified Chinese characters, there is just one stroke in difference between “Diao” and “Xi”.

Diao, 44, first applied for the trademark in March 2016 under the category of goods including “sweets, honey, bread, cakes, cereal products and ice cream”, court documents show.

The application was rejected last year and Diao subsequently lost his appeal at the Beijing Intellectual Property Court, which ruled that the brand name violated a trademark law which prohibits names that “harm socialist morality or have other negative influences”.

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Diao said his self-named brand had “notable characteristics” but bore no resemblance to “Xi Dada”, the court document showed.

“Xi Dada”, meaning “Uncle Xi”, is routinely used in state media and propaganda to portray the president as a wise, fatherly leader. However, critics have seen it as a sign of Xi’s growing personality cult.

In northern China, “dada” often refers to a father’s brother but in the country’s northwest, including Xi’s home province of Shaanxi, it can be a reference to a father.

The verdict from the Beijing Higher People’s Court was dated May 8 but was published only on Friday, on the website China Judgements Online, before going viral on Chinese social media early this week.

In his final appeal, Diao also argued that his company had a reputation of being socially responsible, and cited an award recognising its contribution to the community.

But the ruling said the court had to consider matters beyond the evidence submitted to determine whether there was a breach of trademark law.

In its verdict, the Beijing high court ruled that it also had to “consider the reality of China’s contemporary political, economic and cultural … developments, in light of its specific period in history”.

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Tong Zongjin, from China University of Political Science and Law, said the ruling was probably not surprising given the sensitivity.

“For reasons everybody knows, the verdict is expected to turn out this way,” Tong said. “Though I think the verdict did not explain its reasoning enough.

“Trademark law is more technical than general civil and business cases, and seldom relates to politics or criminal law.

“Since the case touches upon the leader’s name, I believe it was probably a bit politically sensitive, though I don’t know how sensitive it would be.”

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The court documents went viral on WeChat after they were published by the IP news account Zhichanpin on Tuesday, but a few hours later the post was “not accessible because of violations of related law, regulation or policies”.

While Diao insisted his ill-fated brand name was not a reference to the country’s leader, some Chinese businesspeople seem keen to trade in on political figures farther from home.

Since Donald Trump was elected US president, China’s trademark office has received dozens of applications for trademarks under the name same as his daughter “Ivanka”, for products ranging from nutritional supplements to sanitary pads. Most of the applications are still being processed.