China and Google

Ben Edelman of Harvard (see prior references) has been tracking the Chinese government’s attempts to block access to Google.  The latest turn in this saga is that the PRC government, it appears, is re-directing traffic intended for Google to other search engines.  Ben has produced a report with screen shots which I undertand to be results of attempts to access Google from within the PRC.  The address bar displays the URL of Google’s home page but the page returned is clearly that of another company’s search engine.

I  do not know if Google owns Chinese trademark registrations but China is certainly supposed to grant protection to famous marks.  Google should easily fall within that rubric for these purposes.  In a situation like this, I would normally say to a client: “Seems worthwhile to retain PRC counsel to confirm that this is infringement.”

 If the PRC wishes to argue that it has the right to block Google for internal security reasons, that is an argument not worth getting into (at least for those of us not in Congress or the State Department).

However, this apparent government-sponsored passing off and this mis-appropriation of the intellectual property of Google has no apparent justification under security or other grounds.  The most populous nation on Earth seems like just another knock-off artist.  The re-direction represents a flaunting of China’s contempt for the treaties it has entered (and makes me regret noting China’s progress in trademark protection earlier this month).

How to respond?  Let’s start with a discussion of whether ICANN should still hold its upcoming meeting in October in Shanghai.

UPDATE:  This from an article via idg.net:

“It is in violation of the universal approach, changing the DNS system. When you type in a URL, from anywhere in the world, you expect to get to that address,” said Bruce Tonkin, chief technology officer at Melbourne IT and chair of the Names Council of the Domain Name Supporting Organization at the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers.

For Chinese users and Google alike, there may be little available recourse, however. “China has not signed any agreement [not to tinker with the DNS system inside China]. No government has. There is no legislation, no mechanism to stop them,” Tonkin said.”

Well, yes, and no.  If you take the view that the U.S. is in a detente with the PRC, then the mechanism is contract (in this case, international treaties such as TRIPS) and respect for that contract.  And you waive a breach through silence.


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