Heated battle over rights to spicy Shangxin Liangfen

Updated: 2013-10-16 07:06

By Zhang Zhao (China Daily USA)

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Many tourists to Chengdu and Chongqing are impressed by a famous spicy local food called shangxin liangfen. But that popularity has led to a heated battle between restaurants in the two cities over the right to use the name.

The food is usually made of green bean powder or sweet potato powder. Its name literally means "heartbreak jelly" because it is so spicy that people are said to burst into tears when eating it.

In 1999, Yang Ming and his wife Lin Yuanmei opened a restaurant in Luodai town, a tourism destination in the suburbs of Chengdu. They also have another restaurant in the tourist town Ciqikou in nearby Chongqing.

According to the online database of the State Administration for Industry and Commerce, the couple filed a Shangxin trademark application in 2003, which was granted in 2005. They also applied for many other related trademarks in the following years using the Chinese name and a logo.

Despite the trademarks, many competitors in Ciqikou also offer the spicy fare to customers under the same name.

Claiming to be the creators of the trademark, the couple are asking for 40,000 yuan ($6,536) in compensation from two of their competitors in Ciqikou. Shapingba district court in Chongqing started to hear the case at the end of last month.

"I have been selling shangxin liangfen for more than 10 years," Yang said. "We are the genuine creators because we developed our unique cooking techniques."

He told the local newspaper Chengdu Evening News that he resorted to legal action to protect the brand and guarantee food safety. He said he has already won many lawsuits in Sichuan province over rights to the trademark, and is planning to sue around 10 restaurants in Chongqing using the name.

He added that what "made him even angrier" was that the market administration of the Ciqikou area only allows him to put the Shangxin Liangfen signboard inside his restaurant, not outside. He believes it is protectionism.

But Li Dafu, owner of one of the defendant restaurants, told the Chongqing Morning Post that Yang sued him because he wants to "monopolize the business in Ciqikou".

Li said approval by the Ciqikou chamber of commerce is required to have a signboard outside a restaurant, and it must fit a certain size and standard.

He said the procedure could cost several thousand to 10,000 yuan, which is the reason he does not want to negotiate with the plaintiffs.

"If we remove our signboard, we paid that money in vain," he said.

The other defendant, Liao Xingcheng, said Yang and his wife asked a 100,000 yuan "initial fee" to use the Shangxin Liangfen name for three years, which "proves clearly that they want to monopolize the business".

The defendants said that the disputed name should not be considered as a trademark - it is actually the general name for the dish. They said the history of the shangxin liangfen dates back to the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912).

Wang Lin, a lawyer at the Mingju Law Firm in Chengdu, said that a trademark applicant cannot stop others from using a generic name.

He explained that if others used the name with some degree of success before the trademark application, the registrant could ask them to use additional signs to differentiate it from a trademark.


 Heated battle over rights to spicy Shangxin Liangfen

One of the popular restaurants in Ciqikou selling shangxin liangfen, or "heartbreak jelly". Zhong Guilin / for China Daily

(China Daily USA 10/16/2013 page14)