7 March 2019Trademarks

Chinese court cancels ‘vulgar’ MLGB trademark

A Chinese court has rejected an appeal by two celebrities after a lower court invalidated their streetwear brand’s trademark because it was too vulgar.

On Monday, March 4, the Beijing Municipal High People’s Court said the trademark for the brand ‘MLGB’ endangers social morality. It was registered by Li Chen, a Chinese television anchor and Wilber Pan Wei-po, a Chinese singer.

In 2016, China’s Trademark Review and Adjudication Board ruled the trademark invalid for being offensive.

Rachel Tan, global head of trademarks and general manager at Rouse in Hong Kong, said MLGB has long been used as the acronym for the pinyin (Chinese roman characters) of a term meaning “motherf***er”.

But, Chen and Wei-po said the letters “MLGB” stand for “my life is getting better”.

In its decision, the court agreed with the trademark review board and said the acronym was clearly meant to indicate a vulgar meaning, which would negatively influence young people.

The court said the brand had also tried to trademark another Chinese swear word, which indicated that it intended to refer to the vulgar term.

The dispute began in 2015, after four lawyers filed a complaint opposing the trademark, stating that the streetwear brand’s name erodes China’s social values.

Tan said the case was reminiscent of the FCUK trademark case in the UK in the 1990’s, and a similar discussion on whether the mark was "contrary to public policy because of its obscene connotations" took place.

Unlike the ‘FCUK’ case, the MLGB trademark consists of an acronym that “generally could have different meanings as claimed by the registrants”, Tan said.

But the Beijing court determined that evidence submitted by the company did not prove that the acronym was widely recognised by the public to mean “my life’s getting better”.

Tan added that because the brand primarily targets a younger audience, the influence that high-profile celebrities have on the younger generation must also have been considered by the court.

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