CLEARFIELD, UTAH (Updated Nov. 30, 12:55 p.m. ET) — American plastic table manufacturer Lifetime Products Inc. is continuing its push into Chinese courts to stop alleged violations of its intellectual property, securing a victory in a trademark case but having mixed results thus far in a separate case involving manufacturing patents.
Clearfield-based Lifetime, which says it is the world's largest maker of blow molded PE folding tables and chairs, recently won its first court case in China, against Zhejiang Lifan Furniture Co. Ltd. in Shanghai courts for illegally using Lifetime's logo.
In a separate ongoing court case against another Chinese firm, Zhejiang Bestem Industrial Corp., Lifetime has had more mixed results, with China's Patent Review Board agreeing with Bestem and invalidating one Lifetime patent, but in case with many turns, upholding another from the American firm.
The decision in the Lifan logo case marks the first concrete return on a Lifetime strategy launched in early 2010 to more aggressively bring intellectual-property lawsuits in China.
For years the company has filed lawsuits in the United States, Australia and other markets to block access to markets where Lifetime sold, but last year expanded its strategy to directly target Chinese firms in local courts.
A spokesman for Lifan, based in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, acknowledged in an interview with Plastics News that it had used Lifetime's logo, but said it did so at the request of a client in the Philippines. Sol Chen, sales manager for Lifan, said his firm was “cheated by the client from the Philippines.”
Lifetime's lawyer was skeptical of Lifan's statement, because he said Lifetime has repeatedly targeted Lifan's booth at the Canton Fair, the giant twice-yearly export trade show in Guangzhou.
“With respect to Lifan's claim that they were cheated by a client in the Philippines, that claim is somewhat disingenuous based on the fact that we have been pursuing Lifan with respect to intellectual property issues for several years now at the Canton Fair and they clearly know who Lifetime is,” said general counsel Tim Schade.
“Based on our enforcement action against them at the Canton Fair, they also clearly know we do not intend to allow them to utilize our intellectual property,” Schade said.
Schade said if Lifan had contacted the Philippine Trademark Office, the company would have learned that the Philippine client abandoned their application for rights to use Lifetime's name in late 2009.
Chen said Lifan plans to pay the 150,000 yuan penalty and try to collect it from the client in the Philippines.
In the other legal case, against Bestem, Lifetime has accused the Chinese firm of violating some of its manufacturing patents, including those for blow molding the edges and corners of the tables to provide additional strength, and for molding depressions in the entire lower surface to make the tables stronger while requiring less plastic.
The results have been more mixed than with Lifan, however.
China's Patent Review Board ruled in Bestem's favor in one of the patents, according to Hangzhou-based Bestem.
“It means that we win the patent litigation,” Bestem said in a statement on its website. The company declined further comment.
Schade said Lifetime is appealing that particular PRB decision, and he said that China's patent regulators recently ruled in Lifetime's favor on a separate but related dispute, declaring a Lifetime China patent valid and rejecting Bestem arguments.
Additional rulings involving Bestem case are expected soon, Lifetime said.
Lifetime has blow molding capabilities in Clearfield and in Xiamen, Fujian province.