Resolving potential conundrums in trademark disputes over film titles

By Wang Yadong and Han Yufeng, Run Ming Law Firm.

The Chinese film industry has experienced explosive growth in recent years. Movie franchises, merchandise, theme parks and online integration have greatly altered the film industrys release cycles and profit models. In the past, film titles were rarely registered as trademarks, yet now there is an increasing number of cases where the Trademark Law’s first to file doctrine is exploited to pre-emptively register well-known film titles because of their brand effect. There is also an emergence of cases where producers are sued for infringement of exclusive rights to use a trademark when their films have identical titles.

王亚东 Wang Yadong 润明律师事务所 执行合伙人 Executive Partner Run Ming Law Office
Wang Yadong
Executive Partner
Run Ming Law Office

Existing legal framework does not have clear provisions on these types of conflicts. Some authorities have held that protecting film titles lacks legal basis and thus refused protection. Others have afforded titles a certain degree of protection, but were left scratching their heads at the wide gap between the legal basis and judgment rationale. Happily, the Supreme People’s Court has offered a ray of hope in resolving these conflicts in a set of draft interpretations which were recently circulated for public comment.

Foundation for protection

A film title is usually a broad description of the film, as well as an embodiment of the film’s brand and worth. However, past practice has shown that whenever a film title has been illegitimately used, the concerned party typically encounters the awkward situation of there being no clear basis for protecting their rights.

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