Facebook wins China trademark case as local media suggests site could get unblocked by 'Great Firewall'

Founder Mark Zuckerberg has been trying to win around Chinese authorities for years, taking part in apparent publicity stunts and holding regular meetings with top officials

Andrew Griffin
Monday 09 May 2016 10:09 BST
Mark Zuckerberg shakes hands with Liu Yunshan, China's propaganda minister
Mark Zuckerberg shakes hands with Liu Yunshan, China's propaganda minister (Rex)

Facebook has won a huge court ruling in China against another company using a very similar name.

The decision is an unexpected victory for Facebook, against another firm that had a drink called “face book”. But it’s perhaps more important as a symbol of the site’s growing influence in China – and a potential sign that it might soon be unblocked in the country.

Facebook executives including Mark Zuckerberg have been working hard to win around Chinese officials and get access to the hundreds of millions of people who use the internet there. That has included Mr Zuckerberg going on a run in the very smoggy Tiananmen Square, in what seemed to be a publicity stunt.

The company is just one of a range of Western sites that are stuck behind China’s “Great Firewall”. But local reports have suggested that the new ruling indicates China’s authorities are warming to Facebook, and that it might be let onto the other side of the notoriously strict internet rules.

Like Apple, Facebook is looking to China partly because it is difficult to find growth elsewhere. Both companies are seeing slowing adoption apparently because most people who would use their products already do so – but moving into China would open up a huge base of new customers.

Facebook has had much more luck than Apple, which last week lost a case in China over the rights to the iPhone brand name. Chinese courts require that companies prove that their name is well known in the country to uphold trademarks – and one ruled last week that it wasn’t sufficiently famous.

That means that another company can continue to make the phone cases, handbags and other leather goods that it sells under the name “IPHONE”.

Xintong Tiandi trademarked the name IPHONE in 2010 – before Apple’s handsets went on sale in China, but years after the iPhone first came out and almost a decade after Apple filed its trademark, in 2002.

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