Qualcomm sued for US$16M for trademark infringement in China

A Shanghai semiconductor company filed a trademark law suit against Qualcomm, claiming the US chip giant unlawfully used its trademark in China over the past decade.

Shanghai Gao Tong Semiconductor Co, which has the exact same Chinese name as Qualcomm’s name in Chinese, announced on Thursday 6 June that it has filed a trademark infringement and unfair competition lawsuit in late April and the city’s Municipal Higher Court has already accepted the case, according to a NetEase report.

An attorney for the Shanghai firm said Qualcomm’s infringement started in the late 90s despite his client company legitimately owning the Chinese trademark since the firm’s establishment in 1992.

According to the attorney, Qualcomm entered the China market in 1994 and the company registered trademarks “Qualcomm” and a Chinese name “Ka Er Kang” at that time. However, the US company started using “Gao Tong” (in Chinese) in parts of its products and services in 1998.  It set up Qualcomm Wireless Semiconductor Technology Ltd and Qualcomm Wireless Communications Technology (China) Ltd in 2001 - both companies' Chinese names were translated as “Gao Tong”.

The NetEase report revealed Shanghai Gao Tong issued a lawyer’s letter to Qualcomm in 2002 but the latter chose to ignore this and continued to use the Chinese name “Gao Tong”. Cheng Ruping, chairman of Shanghai Gao Tong, told NetEase that Qualcomm tried to purchase the trademark for 50,000 yuan (US$8,000). She felt insulted and ceased the negotiation. 

Qualcomm failed to register its “Gao Tong” trademark in Chinese for nearly a decade. Only in 2010 did the company apply to register the Chinese name “Gao Tong”, but so far it has failed to get approval due to the Shanghai firm’s prior registry, said the report.  

The lawyer demands that Qualcomm stop the infringement immediately. He said Qualcomm’s acts have caused negative effects and substantial losses to his agent company, which claims 100 million yuan (US$16 million) in compensation.

Founded in 1992, the Shanghai-based company was once one of three biggest Chinese character card (an expansion card) manufacturers, along with Lenovo and Kingsoft, in the Chinese market. Today, the company focuses on chip development, primarily for smart life related products.