Readers looking for a strong example of company perseverance in the Darwinian environment that marks international business might be hard placed to find a better representative than sporting shoe maker New Balance.
Indeed, New Balance has consistently displayed an aggressive and never-give-up front globally in efforts to safeguard its iconic “N” trademark, despite successive losses over the years that would reasonably seem to give company executives good cause for being fatalistic and more than a bit downcast.
Especially in China, where, as a New York Times article recently notes, New Balance has lost a slew of litigation efforts seeking injunctions and related damages against competitors’ trademark infringements.
That pattern might have just changed, with a Chinese court ruling last week that three rivals must pay New Balance $1.5 million for copying the company’s design so closely that legions of consumers were confused as to product source. The unlawful infringement “drastically damaged the business reputation of New Balance,” stated the court.
Candidly, the $1.5 million win might strike some readers as a bit of a yawner, especially by comparison with court-ordered recoveries in U.S.-based intellectual property cases.
Clearly, though, as the Times points out, the case is more about principle than about bucks, reportedly being the biggest trademark infringement award ever announced by a Chinese court to a foreign business competitor.
And it bodes well for foreign businesses operating in the huge Chinese market in the future as well, note commentators, one of whom says that the case outcome likely signals “a trend” toward more high-dollar infringement awards going forward.
New Balance principals are clearly psyched by the ruling, with one spokesperson stating that it gives the company “a renewed confidence” in [its] aggressive intellectual-property protection strategy.”
The ruling is still subject to appeal.