Such ‘doge’: Chinese tech giants Tencent and ByteDance race to secure trademark for their own versions of popular emoji

TikTok owner ByteDance has opened a new front in its rivalry with social media giant Tencent Holdings: trying to secure trademark rights to its own version of the famous “doge” emoji that has become a symbol of sarcasm when used by netizens.

Beijing ByteDance Network Technology Co Ltd, a ByteDance subsidiary, last week submitted a trademark application for a picture of a dog’s head that looks similar to the doge emoji that originated in Japan in 2013, according to updated information on TianYanCha, a platform which tracks corporate registry information in China.

The company has also applied for a trademark under the name of “dog head big battle” in Chinese, in several use categories including advertising sales and public services, the updates showed.

The emoji is available on ByteDance’s Douyin app, the Chinese version of TikTok, where users add it to comments they post under videos, or in messages when they chat online with people.

The move followed what rival Tencent did two months ago. Its subsidiary Tencent Technology (Shenzhen) Co Ltd started the trademark registration process of a similar Doge picture, an emoji used on its popular social app WeChat. Use categories it looks to secure include advertising sales, lights and air conditioning, and metal materials.

Doge was inspired by a picture of a Japanese Shiba Inu dog looking warily at the camera with its paws crossed. It has since become a symbol of sarcasm among Chinese netizens, who use the emoji at the end of a post to imply the opposite of what they are saying. Dogecoin, a cryptocurrency featuring doge as its logo, was launched soon after the original meme became popular.

The trademark tussle between Tencent and ByteDance is the latest contest between two Internet giants that have increasingly locked horns in fierce competition for the attention of Chinese mobile phone users. A survey by the state-owned China Netcasting Services Association published last October showed that Chinese mobile phone users are spending more time on video apps than on social media.

Separately, a subsidiary of Weibo, China’s answer to Twitter, has applied to trademark a similar Doge picture it uses as an emoji on the microblogging platform.

ByteDance, Tencent and Weibo did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The images the three companies are trying to trademark are slightly different. ByteDance’s dog is darker while the face of the Tencent version is more square than Weibo’s. Although each claim is targeting different use categories, Tencent and Weibo’s images overlap in one area: advertising sales, while ByteDance’s “dog head big battle” application also focuses on this area.

“It’s an important step for [trademark authorities] to determine if similar applications may lead to confusion in pronunciation, image or implication,” said Gao Tianle, an intellectual property lawyer with Beijing East IP Law Firm. “The three pictures are all based on dog heads… But it depends on the authorities whether they deem them too similar or not.”

All of the doge trademarks are in the application stage and it could take up to nine months for them to be examined by the authority, Gao said. Once the examination stage is complete, the trademark can still be challenged by other owners, he added. – South China Morning Post