Tesla beer or Tesla soda anyone? Not so fast. The US electric carmaker never made such drinks, but a Chinese company has, and now the controversial drinks are at the center of a RMB 5 million legal dispute between Tesla and its maker.
A range of beer and soda waters that bear striking resemblance to US electric carmaker Tesla’s logo and name made by a Chinese company will be the focus of contention at an upcoming trial brought by the carmaker against the drinks’ Chinese manufacturer and distributor in Shanghai.
According to court documents filed by Tesla (Shanghai) Co., Ltd. last March, it says Chinese company Sino Drinks Food Company (中饮食品公司) has infringed on its legal rights by making beer and soda products that use its lawful trademarks. It named the Chinese company and its subsidiary in Guangdong as well as a design company as defendants in the case.
Tesla Shanghai therefore demanded RMB 5 million (US$742,000) in compensation. The Shanghai High Court will hear the case on June 23.
The series of controversial products are ‘Tesila beer‘, which uses Tesla’s transliterated Chinese pinyin name, and ‘Tesla soda‘ waters (pictured above). The drinks’ logo and names both resemble the American carmaker’s designs.
The Chinese company in question has a rap sheet of dubious practices and has squatted over 200 trademarks, of which three are related to Tesla. They are Tesla’s translated Chinese name ‘特斯拉’, ‘特丝拉Tosila’ and ‘Tesla Motors’. It also trademarked over 30 names that are related to new coronavirus, but eventually withdrew the trademarks after a nationwide clampdown on illegal Covid products.
This is Tesla’s most recent trademark battle in China. In 2014, it was sued by Chinese businessman Zhan Baosheng for trademark infringement when Zhan first registered Tesla trademark in China before the Texas-based carmaker came to the country.
Tesla eventually resolved the dispute amicably with Zhan. However, Tesla’s ordeal highlighted the legal issues facing many companies operating in China including Apple, Hermes and Penfolds that have been embroiled in lawsuits with trademark squatters.