December 6, 2023

Tullio Corradini

Trusted Legal Source

China: Recycled Packaging and Trademark Infringement, a Questionable Decision in the Tsingtao Beer Case

China: Recycled Packaging and Trademark Infringement, a Questionable Decision in the Tsingtao Beer Case

China: Recycled Packaging and Trademark Infringement, a Questionable Decision in the Tsingtao Beer Case

Back again in 2020, the renowned Chinese brew firm Tsingtao Beer submitted an administrative complaint for trademark infringement from a smaller Chinese competitor for the use of recycled Tsingtao beer bottles. The smaller sized brewery was filling legitimately recycled Tsingtao bottles with their personal beer. The recycled bottles did not bear the Tsingtao labels and marks, which had been replaced by the label and trademarks of the smaller sized brewery. Nonetheless, the terms Tsingtao Beer, embossed on the bottlers’ neck, was nevertheless visible when the recycled bottles have been commercialized. The situation was adjudicated in 2022 by the Weihai Sector Supervision and Administration Bureau of Shandong Province in favor of Tsingtao Brewery and has been picked as a product trademark enforcement circumstance by the State Administration for Industry Regulation.

Is this even so a case of trademark infringement? Is the use and operate of the words Tsingtao Beer on the bottles’ neck a “trademark use”? Or must this be somewhat a situation of trade gown infringement below the Unfair Competitiveness Law? And, why is this important?

Trademark or Unfair Competition?

Let us start out with answering the issue of why it is significant for a suitable holder in China to decide whether or not this is a case of trademark instead than trade dress infringement.

If this is a trademark infringement scenario, the proper holder can implement its registered ideal by submitting a fast and affordable administrative continuing that will immediately prevent the violation. Its burden of proof will be constrained to amassing the evidence of the act of sale of a person of the allegedly infringing bottles. Presented that administrative proceedings for the enforcement of emblems in China do not deal with harm statements, the correct holder will also be exempted from offering evidence of harm (i.e. its genuine losses or the illicit financial gain of the infringer).

If, instead, this ended up a scenario of trade dress infringement, the suitable holder would have to file a civil lawsuit underneath the Unfair Levels of competition Legislation and verify: a) the notoriety of its item packaging/decoration, b) the infringing act, and c) the damages. Even though a trademark administrative course of action would finish inside of a couple days with a peremptory buy to cease and desist the illicit use of the bottles and a fine for the infringer, an unfair opposition/trade gown lawsuit could past for 12 months and would be more high priced.

Tsingtao’s preference

Tsingtao, for clear strategic factors, determined to file an administrative criticism with the territorially competent Current market Supervision Administration (MSA) for trademark infringement. It was alleged that the act of filling and reselling beer on recycled bottles without properly masking the embossed words and phrases Tsingtao Beer on the bottles’ neck was creating confusion amongst the appropriate buyers about the products origin. In certain, Tsingtao alleged that these use of its registered trademark made in the pertinent consumers the effect that the small breweries’ beer and model was rather connected to Tsingtao Beer. The alleged infringer did not file any defense and as an alternative straight away stopped the sale of beer in the accused bottles.

The MSA Determination

The MSA in charge of the case began by hoping to see if the facts of the scenario suit in the functions of infringement featured by art. 57 of the Chinese Trademark law. The posting provides as follows:

Any of the following functions shall be considered as infringement of exceptional rights to use registered emblems:   

(1) use of a trademark similar to a registered trademark on the exact same sort of commodities without licensing by the trademark registrant

(2) use of a trademark similar to a registered trademark on the similar sort of commodities with no licensing by the trademark registrant, or use of a trademark similar or related to the registered trademark on comparable commodities which conveniently triggers confusion

(3) sale of commodities which infringe upon unique legal rights to use registered logos

(4) forgery or unauthorized producing of labels of other’s registered trademark or sale of cast or unauthorized labels of other’s registered trademark

(5) improve of a registered trademark with no the consent of the trademark registrant, and sale of commodities bearing the transformed trademark in the marketplace

(6) deliberately facilitating infringement of other’s distinctive rights to use trademarks, aiding other folks in implementation of infringement of exclusive rights to use emblems or

(7) creating harm to other’s exceptional legal rights to use registered logos.”

Less than which of the higher than 7 acts of infringement does this case drop? Firstly, the MSA established no matter whether the embossed words and phrases “Tsingtao Beer” on the bottles’ neck was a trademark use. It then regarded no matter if the trademark proper of Tsingtao Brewery was exhausted. At last, it subsumed the resulting specifics less than a person of the 7 functions of trademark infringement established forth by artwork. 57 of the Trademark Regulation. Let’s comply with the reasoning of the MSA with a important eye.

a) Is This a Case of “Trademark Use”?

The initially issue for the MSA was to establish no matter whether the embossed phrases “Tsingtao Beer” on the bottles’ neck is a trademark use, i.e., a use prone to deliver sign of the origin of the products to the suitable buyers. The MSA concluded that this is a circumstance of use of the registered trademark on solution packaging with the very clear perform of pinpointing the source of the solution. The MSA additional argued that: “if they (the words on the bottles’ neck) are not able to be taken off or blocked, they can still be utilized as commercial logos to establish the source of goods (…). Therefore, the unique Tsingtao Beer and TSINGTAO logos on the alleged infringing solutions continue to played a position in distinguishing the source of the merchandise, constituting trademark use.

A additional significant investigation of the details of the situation, however, may well place us in a distinct way. For case in point, the first Tsingtao bottle was marketed with a quite huge label bearing all the standard and effectively acknowledged Tsingtao artwork and logos. In this context, the embossed Tsingtao Beer on the bottle’s neck were being marginal and look to be a ornamental component rather than a marker of origin. People will usually count on the central label to identify the source of the item. This hypothesis was not considered by the MSA and no objections have been raised by the alleged infringer. The reality stays that the functionality of the embossed words in the primary Tsingtao bottle could not be necessarily witnessed as a straightforward trademark use, but the MSA’s reasoning was very essential and superficial on this level.

b) Trademark Exhaustion

After it opted for “trademark use,” the MSA encountered a initially challenge. At the time the original bottle is legitimately bought on the industry, the functionality of the trademark will be realized and the trademark unique appropriate will be “exhausted.” The new operator of the very first first bottle  has the ideal to do with the bottle as he or she pleases. Dependent on these premises, the MSA could have dismissed the complaint.

Nonetheless, it recognized that in this situation there was a special circumstance that evades the basic principle of trademark exhaustion: a “substantial improve in the content of the commodity.” According to the MSA, these a modify of commodity (the modest brewer’s beer as an alternative of Tsingtao beer) will direct the appropriate end users to confusion and “hinder the functionality of the trademark to distinguish the supply of the commodity.

But of what trademark function is the MSA conversing about? The bottle has labels and markings from the filler of the bottle! The user will be in no situation to error that the beer comes from that brewer! The filler of the bottle does not want to mislead the individuals into believing that the liquid inside of is a Tsingtao beer. He is providing his very own beer less than his own label. The MSA disregarded these facts and centered only on the embossed marking on the bottles’ neck, and tells us that the user will believe that that the beer in that bottle will be mistaken for Tsingtao beer!

The reasoning of the MSA is remarkably questionable. If we contemplate the information that: (a) the bottle carries a extra seen mark and label from the small brewery, and (b) the Tsingtao Beer’s embossed mark is on the packaging of the beer itself, there are good reasons to argue that the use of the embossed mark is not a trademark use, and that this is extra a scenario of illegally employing the well known packaging of a further brand name to confuse shoppers as regulated by art. 6 of the Unfair Levels of competition Law. These provision protects the trade costume of a famous commodity.

The facts of this circumstance can in fact healthy into this sort of provisions as very well and would stay clear of entirely the issue of trademark exhaustion. We shall see this additional in aspects at the conclusion of the put up.

c) Infringement Findings

On the earlier mentioned premises, the MSA concluded that there was infringement because of to the danger of confusion, and especially, the chance for the applicable users to “mistakenly believe that the merchandise has a specific relationship with Tsingtao brewery ….” Eventually, the MSA subsumed this scenario under artwork. 57.7 “triggering damage to other’s special legal rights to use registered trademarks.

The conclusion is as flawed as the premises. Art. 57.7 demands the claimant to prove the harm and the illicit use. On the other hand, in the scenario procedure there is no point out of a concrete damage or a ask for to Tsingtao to supply proof about it. It is obvious that the MSA, conscious of the fact than none of the earlier 6 functions of infringement was befitting, selected the past a single, which made available a more open definition of use, but unsuccessful to match the info to even the loosest of the leads to of motion.

It appears that the core of the MSA reasoning is that, once it is assumed that the use of the words “Tsingtao Beer” on the bottles’ neck is a trademark use, the infringement exists for the sole fact that this can mislead the applicable consumers about a relationship involving the lesser brewer and Tsingtao Brewery. This is not a restricted summary. As shown earlier mentioned, the exact facts seem to fit the case of a trade dress infringement. Even the “user’s confusion” about a doable connection amid corporations is needed in situation of trade costume violations and is not unique to the acts of trademark infringement. Art. 6 of the Unfair Opposition Regulation obviously offers that:

A small business operator shall not carry out any of the following perplexing functions that will enable persons to slip-up its solutions for one more business’s goods or imagine selected relations exist between its items and any business’s products: (…) 1. unauthorized use of a mark that is similar or very similar to the identify, packaging or decoration of another business’s commodity, which has impact to a specific extent (…).


The argumentative line of the MSA in this scenario is not convincing. Citing various outdated rules on rebottling and filling up of recycled bottles does not assistance for the reason that all these norms aim on the case of the infringers’ filling at first labeled bottles with a sub-normal and not primary beverage. These are typical circumstances of counterfeiting of a trademark.

The current case is distinct. Right here the embossed “Tsingtao Beer” mark may possibly not be necessarily and mechanically outlined as a trademark and its utilization may possibly not be as a trademark. There are as numerous legitimate arguments to maintain that this emblem is a decorative ingredient of a famed packaging and its misuse, these kinds of as in this situation, can be found as an act of unfair level of competition, aiming at producing confusion among the appropriate buyers as supplied by Art. 6 Unfair Level of competition Law. The actuality that the MSA made a decision to subsume this scenario underneath artwork. 57.7 without the need of even bothering to define and confirm the demanded “harm” is a different telling indication that this choice may well have pressured and stretched the actual trademark law outside of its literal this means.

We can absolutely laud the intent of these kinds of work out: featuring a a lot more time and expense-effective defense to packaging and logos. But it may be a selection that would not stand a better court scrutiny. If there is a will need for a better safety of models in such repackaging scenarios, and the Unfair Competitors law does not give an excellent answer, the way to fix it is by possibly amending the latter regulation or the trademark law accordingly. In the present case the infringer determined to give in, pay back the wonderful and did not file an enchantment. Following time, a more feisty defendant might check out to obstacle this scenario regulation ahead of the Beijing IP Courtroom. If so, there could be a hurry conclusion to pick out this as a model case!