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Facebook wins China legal case

News, 10 May 2016

BEIJING: A Beijing court has ruled in favour of Facebook in a legal case that pitted the global social media network against a Chinese food and drinks company, which had registered "face book" as a trademark.

The Beijing Higher People's Court ruled that Zhujiang Beverage, a manufacturer of milk-flavoured drinks and porridge, could no longer use the name that it had registered back in 2011.

However, the company's marketing manager told the Wall Street Journal that "face book", which translates as "lian shu" in Chinese, refers to a traditional art form.

"Lian shu is something very Chinese. We have lian shu in traditional operas," said Liu Hongqun, in reference to the face masks used to depict historical characters.

He also pointed out that Facebook has been banned from operating in China since 2009. "How many Chinese customers get access to or sign up for Facebook in mainland China? Where can we get access to this product in mainland China?" Liu asked.

Although the Beijing court left open the possibility that China's trademark regulator may revisit the decision, its ruling in favour of Facebook is being seen as a sign that China may be taking a more relaxed approach to the company.

Along with Twitter and several other social media sites, Facebook continues to be blocked in China and can be accessed only via a virtual private network (VPN).

However, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has recently been courting Chinese officials in a bid to have the ban lifted, the Financial Times reported.

On top of meeting Chinese President Xi Jinping during his visit to the US last year, Zuckerberg also invited the Chinese Communist Party's chief censor to his home in San Francisco.

The court's verdict in Facebook's favour is a rare victory for a Western company, but it comes just a month after Apple lost a trademark case against a Chinese company that has been allowed to continue using the "IPHONE" trademark for its handbags.

Data sourced from Wall Street Journal, Financial Times; additional content by Warc staff