Jenny Chan 陳詠欣
Nov 6, 2014

Alibaba softens stance on 'Double-Eleven' trademark battle

HANGZHOU - After the 'Double-Eleven' trademark issue triggered a three-week long war of words between e-commerce rivals, Alibaba Group CEO Jonathan Lu (陆兆禧) is now saying it is "always an open festival that belongs to all participants".

Alibaba softens stance on 'Double-Eleven' trademark battle

The spat began on 16 October when Alibaba warned e-commerce competitors against running ads that made reference to 'Double Eleven' using the characters "双十一", which it had trademarked.

"We express our extreme indignation and condemn some e-commerce companies for their demeaning activities," Alibaba's Tmall said in a leaked letter, without disclosing which companies had drawn its ire. [We have translated the quotation from the original Chinese. -Editor's Note]

The company added that publishers would bear joint liability for any breach of China's advertising law.

Although Tmall stopped short of threatening to sue, it stated that running such ads constituted trademark infringement. As early as 2011, Alibaba made an application at the State Trademark Office to register '双十一' as a trademark.

But Lu's remarks, posted yesterday on his Laiwang account (Alibaba's answer to Tencent's WeChat messenging app), suggested that Alibaba's trademark registration was a "defensive move for self-protection" and not meant to initiate a copyright battle.

Lu said '双十一' never belonged to Alibaba, just as China's e-commerce never equated to Alibaba, so that should not pose limits for other retailers.

Lu explained the initial reason behind registering the trademark. "Because of the lack of awareness of intellectual property protection, our business suffered, so three years ago, the application of this trademark is what we naturally must do," he wrote. "It's the only way to protect this festival and to avoid malicious abuse."

From the legal perspective however, '双十一', being a descriptive representation of a time-sensitive promotional event, was too broad to be trademarked, according to industry commentators.

On 30 October, rival e-commerce platform Jingdong (JD) responded on its Weibo account that Alibaba's warning was counter to "the open spirit of the Internet and the principles of fair competition". Subsequently, it has been running ads with the motif '1111' instead of '双十一'.

The 'Double Eleven' slogan is synonymous with 11 November, which used to be called 'Singles' Day', as it is denoted as 1111 in the calender. After e-commerce platforms encouraged unattached consumers to buy goods as gifts for themselves on that day, it became successfully commercialised, largely due to Alibaba.

 

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