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CHINA : Trademark Gets Lost in Translation

On December 20, 2004 the Beijing No 1 Intermediate People’s Court upheld the decision of the Trademark Review and Adjudication Board on the trademark application for ENVACAR, filed by Pfizer in 2001, and ruled that according to the definition and translation provided by the Modern English-Chinese Pharmaceutical Dictionary, the term “envacar” has become a generic term for a type of anti-hypertension drug in China and thus is not eligible for registration as a trademark in China.

The central issue was whether “envacar” is a generic term in the Chinese language. Pfizer alleged that this definition is inaccurate and has no authority, as “envacar” is a fanciful word that has been registered as a trademark in a number of jurisdictions. The court found that Pfizer did not provide sufficient evidence to support this claim.

This ruling implies that a distinctive term can lose its distinctiveness through mistranslation, and trademark owners now face the unprecedented danger that a trademark protected in some jurisdictions can become a generic term in other jurisdictions simply through inaccurate translation.

International Trade Mark Association Bulletin – 1st July 2005