In December 2019, Bruce Lee Enterprise LLC, a California-based company run by Shannon Lee, daughter of Bruce Lee, sued Guangzhou fast food chain Zhen Gongfu (Real Kung fu), alleging that the chain restaurant has been using her father's image without permission for many years.
Zheng Gongfu is a Chinese fast-food chain founded in 1990 and has been using the logo which resembles Bruce Lee's pose since 2004. Over the years, the company has become one of the leading players in catering services and runs dozens of restaurants across China. Its logo consists of a man dressed in a yellow top with the overall impression highly similar to Bruce Lee and his classic "ready to strike" pose. In 2016, Zhen Gongfu upgraded its brand image and adapted to a more blurred facial features of the character. However, the difference isn't essential.
Below is a comparison of Zheng Gongfu's old logo and updated logo.
In October 2022, the CNIPA has issued its decision on invalidating 20 trademarks owned by the Zhen Gongfu under the article 10.1.7 (likelihood of confusing the consumers with regard to the source of services) of the Trademark Law. The invalidation is made based on:
- The applicant is the exclusive owner of all commercial merchandising and allied rights involving Bruce Lee, including his name, image, logos, and photographs.
- The disputed trademarks use the classic image of the kung fu master, which leads the public to associate the related service with Bruce Lee and therefore cause confusion with regard to the source of the services.
- The owner of the disputed trademark uses the image of Bruce Lee without permission of the relevant oblige, which is likely to create negative impact on the social and public interests.
The CNIPA concluded that, as a promoter and master of Chinese martial arts, Bruce Lee is known as the "King of Kungfu" and was already a well-known public figure with great popularity as well as global influence before the disputed trademarks were registered. Zheng Gongfu's trademarks are with the image which is almost identical to Bruce Lee's classic pose. When being used as trademarks on the designated services, they are bound to create confusion among the public, leading them to believe that Bruce Lee is somehow associated to the fast-food chain.
It is noteworthy that Zhen Gongfu is the owner of the disputed trademarks in China and have been used them for over 10 years. Seeking for invalidation against such trademarks is a difficult mission due to the time limit of invalidation, which is normally within five years from registration of the trademark in China, but the CNIPA still invalidated the disputed trademarks.
The lawsuit was heard in the Shanghai No.2 Intermediate People's Court in August 2022 and the case has not been ruled on yet. The CNIPA's decision is certainly a significant step during the procedure. However, the case concerns an infringement of portrait rights rather than a trademark infringement, and infringement of portrait rights could be difficult to prove. We will keep a close eye on its developments.
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