As US and China move closer to a trade war, Kanye West is already embroiled in a war of his own with a Chinese company.
West meets East: a Chinese company is trying to trademark ‘Yeezy’
The problem? They both want to use the name “Yeezy.”
West currently holds the rights to use the name “Yeezy” for shoes in the US, but it does not yet own “Yeezy Boost” – the name of a sneaker series first released by Kanye and Adidas in 2015.
In June last year, a tiny firm in southeastern China saw its chance.
That's when the company, Fujian Baby Network Technology Co, applied to the US Patent and Trademark Office to register rights for the name “Yeezy Boost” in the US for clothing such as tops, pants, ski gloves and scarfs.
In August, West’s company followed up with a new request to expand its claim on “Yeezy” to include various other clothing products.
West’s application was suspended, the trademark regulator said in a letter on Tuesday, because “Yeezy” sounded too similar to Fujian Baby’s ongoing application for “Yeezy Boost.”
So what does Fujian Baby, which specializes in the export of pet products, want with the superstar’s nickname?
Inkstone got in touch with the company’s owner, Mr. Huang.
Like most of his compatriots in China, the businessman had no idea who Kanye West was.
Huang said he heard of the word “Yeezy Boost” because of Adidas.
“It is world-famous,” he told Inkstone in an exclusive interview. “After the application goes through, I will decide what to do.”
However, Huang’s attempt to seize “Yeezy Boost” from West is likely to fail.
In a September 14 letter to Fujian Baby, the US trademark office initially refused the application because the trademark could be confused with both “Yeezy” and “Boost”.
The company was given six months to make its case, but it has yet to file any response.
Julie Zerbo, a lawyer and the founder of The Fashion Law blog, said West is well positioned to win his fight.
“In the US, you have to be able to show you are the first one to use the trademark,” Zerbo said.
“Kanye West has been using the trademark for a few years, and the Chinese company is going to be disadvantaged if they are not yet using it."
Zerbo said that in China, trademark owners do not need to prove that they are actually making use of a trademark, which had led to rampant “trademark-squatting.”
It is common for Chinese companies to register trademarks simply to sell them to others later, she said.
Since Donald Trump won the presidential election in 2016, over 70 applications have been filed in China to register “Ivanka” as a trademark, according to the country's trademark office.
“Yeezy” has already been registered by Chinese companies in China for watches, jewelry, mattresses, mobile phones and batteries.
That means West may have a much tougher battle to fight, if he ever wants to sell his streetwear in China.
West’s intellectual property company, Mascotte Holdings, has also filed applications in China for the right to use “Yeezy” on a number of clothing and footwear products.
It includes one more pending application: Yeezy-branded sausage casings. You read it here first.