When introducing its new logo in late 2022, Citroën did know of the existence of Xiamen’s older, nearly identical mark. However, the French thought they could overturn this trademark registration. According to Citroën, Xiamen had never used its logo at all in Europe. In trademark law, the rule is that if you don’t use your trademark for five consecutive years, another person can claim the lapse of your right. In 2021, Citroën therefore started legal proceedings to have Xiamen’s registration declared invalid for non-use.

logo Citroën Golden Dragon
Left is Xiamen’s logo registered in 2010, right is Citroën’s new logo



That failed miserably, however. A few weeks ago, the European Trademark Office ruled that Xiamen had shown, with ample evidence, that it did use its logo in Europe for its electric buses. Buses have recently been sold in Denmark, Romania, Cyprus and Bulgaria, and Xiamen also exhibited at an annual trade show in Belgium. In short, the European trademark registration of the Xiamen logo still stands.

What now?

It is obvious that Xiamen, with its valid European registration, will now attack Citroën’s new logo, if it has not already done so. It seems very likely to me that the Chinese will come out on top in an infringement case. After all, the brands are almost identical, and the fact that Xiamen is about electric buses and not passenger cars will not help Citroën. Consumers can quickly become confused, also because in both cases, the logo is used prominently on the vehicle’s grill. In the blackest scenario, Citroën will be forced to choose a different logo.

Citroën Golden Dragon
Left Citroën, right the Golden Dragon bus from Xiamen



Still, it is highly questionable whether it will all come to this. In practice, cases like this, where the stakes are high, are usually settled after a good deal of gunplay. We saw this recently in the Netherlands when the Hermitage museum wanted to change its name to Hart. And longer ago the same thing happened to the stadium Amsterdam Arena and IT giant Atos Origin. To withdraw these trademarks was actually impossible in all these cases, and under pressure everything becomes fluid: things were settled for large sums of money.

Logo Citroën

Stretched leg

But now first we have to wait and see if Xiamen will indeed go in with a straight leg. Of course, we cannot see what is already happening behind the scenes and whether Citroën has more arrows on its bow. Moreover, the French can drag things out with appeals, but in the end they will come to blows. For now I see mostly enthusiastic press releases for the introduction of the ‘ALL-NEW CITROËN Ë-C3, THE FIRST EUROPEAN AFFORDABLE ELECTRIC CAR, complete with a shiny new logo on the grill. The big question remains why Citroën knowingly took such a big risk.

Bas Kist

This article was published on Oct. 27, 2023 at Adformatie

Bas Kist is mede-oprichter van Merkenbureau Chiever. Hij schrijft regelmatig artikelen over merken- en auteursrecht in de Volkskrant en Adformatie. Daarnaast is hij docent bij de European Institute for Brand management EURIB.