Trademark Cases: Singapore Crocodile International v LACOSTE

The second generation Malaysian-Chinese chairman of Singapore Crocodile International Private Ltd travelled to these colder climes in early January to speak to the Chinese press about the company's presence in China.

Singapore Crocodile continues to face the longstanding question of whether it's even worthwhile staying in China and co-existing with French rival Lacoste, which sells clothing with a similar crocodile logo. The decisive factor is whether Singapore Crocodile can continue using its trademark logo, which it has used for 12 years, albeit illegally until recently.

A Beijing court will reach a decision on this matter soon. If Singapore Crocodile loses the case, the company could face catastrophic losses.

"The 350 million yuan (US$44 million) we paid for our brand will go to waste, our 20 plants and 1,500 shops will close and 16,710 workers will be jobless," Ang says.

The company's new 120 million yuan (US$15 million) building, Cartelo Plaza in Shanghai, will be completed by the end of the year. As planned, it will move its global headquarters from Singapore to Shanghai next year.

Over the past 12 years, Singapore Crocodile has built one-third of its global business in China, capturing a much larger market share than Lacoste. If the company loses the court case, these efforts will have been in vain, Ang says.

It will also have to compensate its dealers throughout the country. The company has signed contracts with four dealers that have been sued by Lacoste for selling Singapore Crocodile sportswear, and has promised to compensate them for their losses if it loses the case.

"If we lose the case, we can't continue our business in China," says Yi Qianru, managing director of Shanghai Cartelo Garments Co Ltd, the company's China office.

it-for-tat

The case between Lacoste and the State Trademark Evaluation Commission opened on November 28, 2005. Lacoste took the commission to the Beijing No 1 Intermediary People's Court last July, and demanded that Singapore Crocodile be prevented from registering its trademark in China. Singapore Crocodile's logo faces the left while Lacoste's faces the right, but Lacoste does not believe this difference will be noticed by consumers.

Even with 'Cartelo' written next to the logo, Lacoste insists that Singapore Crocodile's trademark looks no different from its own.

"You can't just add some letters and give the crocodile a different direction, then say your logo is different from mine," says Huang Hui, Lacoste's acting lawyer.

"If so, anyone could easily make different trademarks and abuse the crocodile logo. That's unimaginable."

The only possible path to reconciliation, Huang says, is based on the condition that Singapore Crocodile recognizes Lacoste's exclusive rights to the crocodile logo. This has happened in several disputes with other companies over the past year. Hong Kong-based Crocodile Garments Ltd and Zhejiang Crocodile Garment Co Ltd both agreed to give up their crocodile logos within an agreed timeframe, but Singapore Crocodile will not accept these conditions.

Read more about this story at China Daily Website.
Source: China Daily Updated: 2006-02-13
http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/bizchina/2006-02/13/content_535160.htm
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