Mocking jubilation on Chinese social media as Chanel loses trademark dispute to Huawei

The Chinese internet was crowing after Huawei won a branding trademark case against Huawei.
PHOTO: Tom Leung

The Chinese public is crowing on social media after French fashion brand Chanel lost a trademark dispute to telecommunications giant Huawei Technologies this week.

The dispute was over an application filed by Huawei to the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) to register a trademark for a brand for computer hardware featuring two vertical interlocking semi-circles, similar to the iconic Chanel logo.

After examining the visual, phonetic, and conceptual aspects of the logos, the General Court of the European Union said found that, while they shared some similarities, their “visual differences are significant”, according to a press release issued on Wednesday.

On Chinese social media, supporters of Huawei called Chanel “pengci” – a Chinese slang meaning to intentionally pose as a victim to receive compensation.

The phrase was coined when people in China deliberately fell in front of moving cars to pretend they were hit to extort medical fees and payment from drivers.

“It’s classic pengci. They are not similar at all. You can not look at one logo and think of the other,” said one online user. They also claimed that Chanel was trying to tarnish Huawei’s international reputation.

“Chanel’s sign is horizontal, Huawei’s is vertical, that’s such an obvious difference, even my three-year-old niece knows,” someone said on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like service.

“If you want to pick a fight with Huawei, just say so!” “Does Chanel not want the Chinese market anymore? It’s a piece of cake for us to drive you out. We’ll give you a warning for this time,” another said.

In China, public support for Huawei has hinged on nationalistic sentiment and pride in the company being a homegrown brand with global reach.

During the saga of Meng Wanzhou, Huawei became a patriotic symbol of China’s unfair treatment on the global stage. Meng is the daughter of founder Ren Zhengfei and chief financial officer of the company.

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She is under house arrest in Canada and is fighting an extradition request by the US.

Huawei also became the most high-profile corporation caught in the US-China trade war after the Trump administration targeted the company with a series of restrictions, including cutting off its ability to access chips made with US technology.

These high-profile geopolitical events have, in turn, helped the brand increase its popularity in the domestic market. Huawei’s 2020 revenue grew by 3.8 per cent compared to 2019.

The trademark dispute with Chanel dates back to September 2017, when Huawei filed the application. In December that year, Chanel filed a notice of opposition claiming Huawei’s mark “bore similarities to its own mark registered for perfumes, cosmetics, costume jewellery, leather goods and clothes”.

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In 2019, the  EUIPO rejected Chanel’s application, declaring Huawei’s mark was not similar to Chanel and that Chanel’s mark had a reputation and the public was not likely to be confused about it.

The luxury brand then challenged the ruling at the Luxembourg-based General Court, which upheld the previous decision this week.

“In particular, Chanel’s marks have more rounded curves, thicker lines and a horizontal orientation, whereas the orientation of the Huawei mark is vertical,” the court statement said.

The ruling can be appealed to the EU Court of Justice. It is unclear at the moment whether Chanel will take a further step.  

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.