“Double 11” and Its Discontents: Chinese e-commerce giants battling over trademark rights of the shopping festival

Chinde’s annual shopping carnival, Double 11, just came to an end, while the hostile affairs of the hosts continue on.

On November 10, Beijing Intellectual Property Court held a trial over the lawsuit launched by China’s two largest e-commerce companies, Alibaba Group, and mJD.com – both the plaintiffs and third parties in the case – against the administrative decision rendered by the China National Intellectual Property Administration (CNIPA).

This contested decision concerning “Double 11” trademark, owned originally by Alibaba group, was made in May 2020. It originated from the request for cancellation of Alibaba’s “Double 11” trademark, made by JD.com in November 2018, and the following appeal lodged in September 2019.

JD.com claimed that Alibaba group did not actually use the “Double 11” trademark between 2015 and 2018 for three consecutive years after registration. It was thus cancellable at the request of any third party, argued JD.com, according to Article 49 of the Trademark law of China.

The CNIPA first ruled in favor of Alibaba for the exclusive rights of “Double 11” trademark. However, after reviewing the appeal launched by JD.com, the IP regulator amended its decision in May 2020, maintaining the partial usage of Alibaba’s “Double 11” trademark (regarding its registration on services of “advertisement”, “presentation of goods on communication media for retail purposes”, and “sales promotion for others”, classified under Class 35), whilst nullifying that on the rest of services[i].

The trial, opened just on the eve of the Double 11 (the 11th of November) at Beijing Intellectual Property court, was the corollary of these legal skirmishes between the e-commerce giants and Chinese IP authority. Both companies were disappointed by the latest ruling of the CNIPA: JD.com continues posing challenges to the CNIPA regarding Alibaba’s keeping of the partial rights to use “Double 11”, and Alibaba is appealing against the parts being canceled. Both parties are seeking the eventual new ruling leaning in favor of itself.

The Singles’ Most Profitable Invention

known also as the Singles’ Day (光棍节) in China, the Double 11 was initiated by Alibaba group in 2009, and the trademark was later registered in 2011.

Ever since, the notorious Double 11 has become the massive shopping festival held by every major e-commerce platform in China, from the beginning of November and culminates on the 11th of November.

China’s e-commerce platforms see their Double 11 sales records broken every year. It is reported (South China Morning Post, November 11, 2020) that Alibaba – despite the Covid-19 pandemic this year – almost doubled last year’s record with more than RMB 498 billion (US$74 billion) in sales over 11 days (from November 1 to November 11).

The second largest e-commerce service provider, JD.com, also hits a record high with more than RMB 271 billion, an increase of over 33 percent in turnover from the same period last year. (Yicai Global, November 12, 2020).

It is not surprising that, with such lucrative nature of the consumer event in China, “Double 11” trademark has long been the subject of legal dispute.

As a matter of fact, the legal dispute over “Double 11” trademark dated back further to 2017, when Alibaba group found JD.com has also registered trademarks (texts and logos) of “JD.com Double Eleven”, echoing the Alibaba’s invention of “Double 11”. Alibaba decided to make a request to the CNIPA for cancellation of JD.com’s trademarks of the sort, which has been ruled in its favor by the CNIPA and the Intellectual Property court.

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[i] It includes “business management assistance”, “commercial information and advice for consumers in the choice of products and services”, “organization of exhibitions for commercial or advertising purposes”, “compilation of information into computer databases”, “sponsorship search”, and “book-keeping/accounting”.

Source: Beijing Intellectual Property Court, “Double 11” Trademark Court Trial Information, November 12, 2020

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