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Last Updated: Tuesday, 9 December, 2003, 09:59 GMT
Firms snap over crocodile logo
A Chinese court has begun hearings into a four-decade-old dispute over the ownership of a crocodile clothing logo.

Singapore businessman Tan Hiantsin has complained that France's Lacoste pinched its well-known crocodile branding from his own firm's design.

Mr Tan's firm, Crocodile International, wants $1 compensation and an apology.

But the dispute, which has been simmering since the 1960s, is highly complex, delving into the arcana of international copyright law.

Original sins

The only significant difference between the logos is the direction they face, so the each side is hurrying to prove that they designed it first.

Lacoste says it registered its logo in France as far back as 1933; it also argues that it did the same in China in 1980.

Mr Tan, meanwhile, insists that he registered his logo in Singapore in 1951, but disputes Lacoste's claim to have registered Chinese rights before the late 1990s.

A key point in the argument is Mr Tan's nationality: a Chinese-born Malaysian, he claims that Malaysia's adherence to international copyright conventions gives his design blanket protection in China from 1990.

But there is uncertainty over exactly when Mr Tan became a Malaysian citizen.

If he can be shown to have been Singaporean in 1995, when Lacoste registered its crocodile in China for a range of cosmetics, then he will not enjoy protection under the conventions.

Name games

Lacoste and Crocodile International have been squaring off over the logo since the 1960s, but the present dispute was sparked by the 1995 cosmetics registration.

The complexity of the case is typical in international copyright disputes, which often revolve around the incompatibility of different country regimes.

Such issues have become far more complex since the commercial opening of large but thinly-regulated markets such as China and Russia.

International firms have been embroiled in a raft of copyright disputes in developing economies.

In China, a string of high-profile names - ranging from Peter Rabbit to the Champs Elysees - have been drawn into disputes.

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