Tianjin company prevails amid Swiss contretemps
Tianjin-headquartered Seagull Watch Group has again won an overseas intellectual property dispute, this time with Swiss watchmaker Omega SA during an international watch and jewelry fair in Basel, Switzerland early this month.
Omega filed a complaint with the IP division of the event's organizing committee on March 9, alleging Seagull's signboards with the word co-axial violated its trademarks on "Omega Co-axial" and "Co-axial 3".
After on-the-spot talks, Seagull's signboards with the word were taken away, but the event's arbitration board sided with Seagull the following morning, ruling the use did not constitute IP infringement.
"We had no infringement intention," Lu Jun, general manager of China's top watch company, told China Daily.
"The term co-axial was used as an adjective in our promotional materials rather than a trademark," he said.
Despite the favorable ruling, Seagull did not continue using the signboards. "We don't want to intensify the conflict," said Ma Guangli, chief engineer of the company.
"We participated in the fair to showcase our technologies and products, learn from overseas peers and seek potential business partners," Ma said.
The eight-day event, the largest of its kind in the world, attracted more than 1,800 exhibitors, about 300 of them from host country Switzerland.
It was the third IP dispute Seagull won following a case in the 1990s that it lost due to a lack of experience and knowledge, Ma said.
A decade later it prevailed in a patent lawsuit over double tourbillon watches with finely crafted visible escarpments on their face. In 2011 Seagull won a separate case over tourbillon cuff buttons.
An average Seagull tourbillon watch is priced at about one-fifth the cost of a Swiss-made counterpart.
Lu said Seagull arrived at the recent BaselWorld Watch and Jewelry Show "well prepared".
"Generally, IP infringement complaints are brought during the second half a show's duration because locating targets and collecting evidence takes time," he said.
"But Omega's move came on just the second day."
Engineer Ma said "Seagull highly values the importance of intellectual property at international industry fairs" and selected 81 items from its range for exhibition to make sure each had solid evidence of IP rights.
Seagull's caution reflects what it learned on the same turf - it has been the subject of infringement complaints several times before at the Basel show.
In the 2008 tourbillon dispute, Seagull's Swiss attorney was reluctant to even take the case until he was shown a faxed copy of its patent certificate, Ma recalled.
At last year's exhibition, a Seagull victory in an infringement counterclaim again relied on its patents.
"Without innovation and patents, failure in competition is inevitable," Ma said.
With the only corporate R&D center in the industry in China, Seagull had filed more than 400 patent applications by 2011, along with two international applications through the Patent Cooperation Treaty. It has nearly half of all patents by domestic watchmakers.
Lu said Seagull has hired a Swiss design team to enhance its international competitiveness, with mass production of a new series expected in June.
Lin Yongning, managing director of Seagull's parent company Tianjin Yiqing Group, noted that "if we cannot learn from experience and come up with our own innovations, the internationalization of our products will be impossible".