Above: The Teslamotors.cn web page that Zhan Bao Sheng registered ahead of time.
Like many international companies entering into China, Tesla has failed to protect its branding and logo IP prior to its launch, you can read many more examples over at Chinalawblog.com where the excellent lawyers that run the blog pour over case after case of branding misery.
Chinese automotive media are reporting heavily on the fact that the Chinese name that spells out Tesla (Te Si La) has already been registered as early as 2006 and approved in 2009, the Chinese press have been informally using this name since then.
The entrepreneurial soul behind the Tesla name grab has already been outed by the Chinese media, Mr. Zhan Bao Sheng has apparently started his own Tesla long before the real Tesla’s musk got in on the action, except Mr. Zhan was largely attaching the Tesla logo to golf carts rather than actual electric sports sedans.
What does this mean for Tesla in China? It means that without the actual rights to the Te Si La name they cannot open their brand new store in Beijing. So what’s the alternative? They could go down the route of alternative names to avoid any clashes. Land Rover changed their name from ?? (Lu Hu) meaning ‘Continent Tiger’ to ?? meaning ‘Road Tiger’ as Geely had snapped up the former ahead of JLR’s official launch in China.
In the face of a relentless Chinese media, Mr. Zhan has taken to online channels such as Weibo (China’s Twitter alternative) to protest his innocence and his initial attempts to make EV’s, but that protesting soon turned into vitriol with him lashing out reporters who claimed he was only in it for the money.
The trademark case is still being disputed by the authorities despite Elon Musk reportedly offering Mr. Zhan more than 300,000USD for the name.
Mr. Zhan with his Tesla golf cart: