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2020-05-13 14:21:56

Chinese video platform Kuaishou has filed a 5 million yuan ($705,000) lawsuit against Douyin, accusing its rival of “piggybacking” on the company’s user base by infringing its trademark.

According to a statement in the lawsuit, which has been accepted by Beijing’s Haidian District court, Kuaishou claims Douyin used Kuaishou’s name to link to its own product page on 360 Mobile Assistant, a third-party Android app store. The plaintiff accused Douyin — known internationally as TikTok — of infringing Kuaishou’s trademark to display its own product, prompting users to download the rival app even when they searched for Kuaishou.

Backed by tech titan Tencent, Kuaishou is China’s second-largest video-streaming platform after Douyin. In February, Kuaishou claimed it had surpassed 300 million daily active users on its Chinese app, while Douyin revealed it had over 400 million users the previous month.

ByteDance, Douyin’s parent company, told domestic media on Wednesday that it had filed its own lawsuit against Kuaishou in March over similar issue, and is looking into its rival’s latest allegations.

Paid content promotion has become common practice among many domestic search engines and other similar platforms, with both Android and Apple app stores embracing the search strategy. But this often leads users to third-party sites that profit from their personal information, raising concerns about content quality and impaired functionality.

“I think what Douyin has done could constitute infringement of Kuaishou's trademark rights,” Xu Xinming, an intellectual property lawyer at Beijing Mingtai Law Firm, told Sixth Tone. “If Douyin links Kuaishou as its key paid search term in its ad rankings, it basically weakens Kuaishou’s connection to its users, just as Kuaishou argues in its lawsuit.”

Usually, third-party service providers don’t have a legal obligation to review keywords, and it’s also impractical to analyze every word in the search engine algorithm, Xu said. The lawyer added that service providers should be more responsible when it comes to displaying search results.

“If the rights owner discovers infringement or unfair competition, they can notify the service provider and ask them to take necessary measures, such as deleting, blocking, disconnecting links, and more,” Xu said.

Douyin, Kuaishou, and 360 Mobile Assistant did not respond to Sixth Tone’s interview requests by time of publication. The Haidian District court said the case is under investigation, and a hearing date has not yet been set.

With millions of people homebound during the coronavirus pandemic, short-video platforms have become some of the most popular means of entertainment. According to QuestMobile, a Beijing-based consultancy, average screen time on short-video apps during this year’s extended Lunar New Year holiday increased by 27 minutes compared with the same period last year, with Douyin slightly outperforming Kuaishou in terms of daily active user growth.

Increased competition in China’s overcrowded video market has also led to numerous court battles between domestic tech titans. In 2018, Douyin sued Tencent for defamation over an article published on the company’s flagship social app WeChat. Then later the same year, Tencent and ByteDance, sued each other over unfair competition.

Editor: Bibek Bhandari.

(Header image: From Alashi/Getty Creative/People Visual, re-edited by Sixth Tone)