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Honda Motor Co. Sues Chongqing Lifan Industry Group, Accusing Motorcycle Maker of Logo Piracy

SHANGHAI, China June 3, 2004; Elaine Kurtenbach writinfg for the AP reported that Honda Motor Co. is suing China's biggest private motorcycle maker, accusing it of pirating the Japanese company's logo, a Shanghai court said Friday.

Honda is demanding more than 17 million yuan ($2 million) in compensation and legal fees from Chongqing Lifan Industry Group Co., which is based in the southern municipality of Chongqing, the state-run Xinhua News Agency reported.

It alleges that the "SOR" logo used by Lifan on its motorcycles looks too similar to an "SCR" logo registered by Honda as its trademark in 1999, Xinhua said in a report on its Web site.

Officials at the Shanghai No. 2 Intermediate People's Court contacted Friday confirmed the case was being heard there, but would not comment further.

Honda's headquarters in Tokyo refused to comment while the trial was still underway, as did staff at Lifan's offices in Chongqing.

The case comes as foreign automakers and other multinationals intensify their fight against patent and copyright infringements that they say are costing them billions of dollars in lost sales both inside and outside China.

The Xinhua report said that during a court hearing on Thursday, Honda presented as evidence two motor scooters made by Lifan and bought in Shanghai, both emblazoned with "SOR" logos in the same place that Honda puts its "SCR" logos.

Lifan denies copying Honda's logo or products, the report said.

Another case between Honda and Lifan is pending in Beijing's No. 2 Intermediate People's Court. In that case, Honda said Lifan used the name "Hongda" on its products -- a name the Japanese automaker contends is too similar to its own. It is asking for more than 25 million yuan ($3 million) in compensation.

Other big automakers have also begun pursuing alleged infringements.

General Motors Corp. of the United States is investigating similarities between its GM Spark vehicle and the QQ mini-car produced by China's SAIC-Chery Automobile Co., while Toyota Motor Corp. is suing Chinese car maker Geely, accusing it of trademark piracy.

Despite its qualms over piracy issues, Honda has been boosting investment in China hoping to strengthen its 10 percent share in the highly competitive motorcycle market, which is forecast to turn out 12 million units this year.

Honda began making motorcycles in China in 1982. But like other Japanese motorcycle makers it has ceded much of the fast-growing market here and in Southeast Asia to a flood of Chinese competitors.

Chongqing Lifan, set up in 1992 by entrepreneur and former college professor Yin Mingshan, began exporting motorcycles to Japan in 2001 and holds a large share of the market in Vietnam. The company has also branched into home appliances, wine making, security doors and financial services. It also owns a soccer team, the Lifan Football Club.

Chongqing Lifan Industry Co.: