Tesla Faces Trademark Issues With "Model E" In U.S. and "Tesla" in China

TTAC Staff
by TTAC Staff
tesla faces trademark issues with model e in u s and tesla in china

Chinese businessman Zhan Baosheng’s “Tesla” web site

Tesla Motors faces trademark issues in the United States and China as it tries to expand its lineup of cars and countries where it is sold. According applications found at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s web site, on August 5th, Tesla filed three trademark applications for use of the name “Model E” in three categories, “automobiles and structural parts therefore,” automobile maintenance and repair services, and apparel. With merchandise sales being an important part of car marketing today, additional filings to cover apparel and similar logoed items are standard practice. Last year, Tesla CEO Elon Musk hinted at a Model E in an interview with Jalopnik, “There will definitely be more models after the S and X. Maybe an E :).”

Tesla may run into problems using Model E, though. Thirteen years ago, Ford Motor Company sued a company called the Model E Corp, claiming that it would cause confusion with Ford’s trademark on the name Model T. That case in a Michigan court was dismissed for lack of standing. Records at the USPTO show that Ford subsequently cancelled or abandoned applications for a trademark on Model E. Initially, when the news broke about Tesla’s applications, a Ford spokesman said that the Dearborn automaker would likely not challenge Tesla’s use. However, a later statement from Ford said that the company will review Tesla’s application and have no further comment on the matter at this time.

Tesla is also having difficulty entering the Chinese car market because a local Chinese businessman already secured rights to use the name Tesla in the world’s largest car market. Tesla Motors had hoped to open a company owned showroom in Beijing by the beginning of 2014, but that plan has now been delayed while they work out the intellectual property issue. The Tesla showroom has posters of the Model S, but no brand signs. A Tokyo-based Tesla representative said that the company had begun taking reservations for the Model S in China.

The “Tesla” trademark was registered in China to a Guangdong businessman named Zhan Baosheng in 2006, according to a trademark agency representing him, in both English and Chinese characters. Zhan also owns the teslamotors.com.cn domain name (and similar domain names) where he appears to promoting his own electric cars. Not only is he using the Tesla name and a Chinese-language slogan ‘Te Si La, Live For Electricity’, he’s also using the T shaped Tesla logo. Experts familiar with Chinese trademark issues say that Tesla may have no other choice than pay Zhan for the use of the name. According to published reports, the EV maker offered him $326,000, but Baosheng is holding out for $32 million. Last year Apple Inc. paid $60 million for the Chinese rights to the name iPad. As a backup plan Tesla has registered the name Tuosule, which phonetically reproduces their brand name.

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10 of 25 comments
  • Icarus Icarus on Aug 24, 2013

    I think it's too easy to get wrapped up in the supposed value of a brand name. Some products have their primary value in their intellectual property and are easily stolen or reverse engineered. But a good automobile has quality that is not easily copied. A person who wants a genuine Rolex watch knows what they're buying and why they're paying $10 to $20 thousand: for a product, not a name. The same is true of a Porsche or a Bentley or a Ford F-150. Whether Tesla can use the same name in China seems of minor importance as long as their customers know what they're buying.

    • Corey Lewis Corey Lewis on Aug 27, 2013

      They don't know. That's the point. You're citing brands with 100+ years of history and well-known brand image. Tesla is one decade old.

  • Brenschluss Brenschluss on Aug 24, 2013

    It can't cost more than $326k to take out some Chinese guy, can it? Serious question though, why, at least to this laowai, does China seem to have a business culture built upon dishonesty and IP theft? What caused this?

    • See 6 previous
    • Onyxtape Onyxtape on Aug 25, 2013

      @bigtruckseriesreview @ Youtube America did not just foster innovation and ingenuity out of thin air. We blatantly ignored European patents and trademarks during the Industrial Revolution. A good chunk of the space and nuclear programs was from Nazi research. No different than China, Korea, or Japan when the basis of much of our scientific and economic prowess stemmed from flat-out stealing other people's ideas.

  • David S. For a single quarter, only ninth best-selling (estimated?) of 2022. Maybe ICE vehicles would sell at a similar rate if the government paid people to buy them too?!
  • Dukeisduke I don't like how they've changed their nameplates and font from the Star Trek-ish LEXUS, to L E X U S, kinda like VW's lettering on the back of the T A O S, or those stick-on letters you can buy at the parts store that people use to their own names on the back of their cars.
  • Dukeisduke So, the screen goes blank for two-tenths of a second, every once in a while - what could go wrong?
  • Dukeisduke "Hello, IT. Have you tried turning it off and on again?"(Roy in The IT Crowd)
  • Dukeisduke Just Say No To Bugs!