As the animal who arrived last in the race between the 12 zodiac animals to the emperor's palace, the year of the pig marks a full rotation in the cycle of the Chinese calendar.

Pigs are a symbol of wealth in Chinese culture. It's no surprise then that China's demand for pork has risen in correlation with the country's economic growth: half of the world's pork is now eaten in China.

But China's consumption of pork doesn't stop at the dinner table. The Peppa Pig TV series streams more than 10 billion times a year on major online streaming platforms Youku and Iqiyi.

Unfortunately for Peppa, prior to entering the Chinese market, her popularity had not gone unnoticed. China's "first to file" rule means that the first company to apply to register a trade mark will obtain the registered right regardless of whether they have an intention to actually use the mark commercially. Phoney Peppa Pigs were quicker in the "first-to-file" race and therefore blocked the genuine Peppa from obtaining registration. The proprietors of the phoney registrations benefited from Peppa's subsequent celebrity status in the PRC as the registered right to use Peppa Pig's image became commercially valuable.

The case demonstrates the difficulties in obtaining robust trade mark protection for popular brands in China.

Individuals or firms who register foreign trade marks with the intention of selling the IP to the true brand owner once operations move into the Chinese market are known as "trade mark squatters". Their actions are not illegal in China. For Western firms anticipating expansion into China, it is important to be aware of the "first to file rule" and how to avoid being compromised by trade mark squatters. Applying for trade mark registration as soon as the brand is conceived is advisable.

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