Christie’s has prevailed in its fight against a rival Chinese auction house with a suspiciously similar-sounding name. Last summer, the prestigious auctioneer sued the Chritrs Group — which has offices in Singapore, Tapei, and eight other locations around the world, according to its website — in Hong Kong’s High Court for trademark infringement. (Chritrs’ and Christies’ Chinese names are pronounced identically and are only one character apart in print.) On November 14, Justice Au Yeung granted Christie’s application for summary judgment in the case and ordered the defendants to give up their infringing advertising and materials by December 6, 2012.
“We are pleased with the court’s decision,” a Christie’s spokesperson told ARTINFO in a statement. “The injunction prevents Chritrs from further infringing our trademarks and brand. Our clients and the public must be protected from being deceived. This decision is important in helping us achieve that.” Christie’s said Chritrs had no explanation for the similarity between its own English and Chinese names and those of Christie’s, and noted that the ‘Chritrs’ name is “almost unpronounceable” in English.
The privately-owned house decided to take action against Chritrs back in August 2011 after learning that a number of its clients attended the rival’s Chinese paintings sale preview under the impression that it was a Christies’ event. “Christie’s encourages clients and the public to exercise due diligence when selecting auction houses to work with, and recommends only working with reputable firms that have clear and established track records,” said the spokesperson.
This isn’t the first time a global auction house has succeeded in its effort to squash a copycat as it expands into the Asian market: Sotheby’s won a similar case against Chinese company Sichuan Sufubi in 2008.
How Chritrs will adapt in light of the court’s decision is anybody’s guess, but observers speculated that possible new names for the auction house include “Sothbis” and “Phillyps.”
— Julia Halperin