What's Chinese for Dowager Countess? 'Downton Abbey' goes to China

Maggie Smith in "Downton Abbey." She lived a fancy life, but what was it like for the staff downstairs?

The British producers of the hit TV drama series "Downton  Abbey" are cashing in on their creation. In Britain and in the U.S., they’ve rolled out  a wide range of branded merchandise -- clothes, jewelry ,cosmetics, and even wine. 

But they may have missed a trick in another potentially huge market: China.  

Several wily Chinese entrepreneurs got in quick and secured the right to use the "Downton" name throughout the People’s Republic.

"They have absolutely no connection with the show, but they were the first to go to the trademark office," says  Kening Li, intellectual property partner with Pinsent Masons law firm in Shanghai. "Unlike the U.S., China is a first-to-file country. That means whoever is the first to the trademark office to register a name will get the rights to that name." 

And that means the Chinese entrepreneurs, and not the British producers, may profit from a likely flood of merchandising deals in China.

The disclosure is a big embarrassment for the British government. On a recent trade mission to Beijing, U.K. Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne bragged that “160 million people in China are watching the goings on at Downton Abbey." He cited this as evidence of the growing -- and mutually beneficial -- trade links between the two countries.

About the author

Stephen Beard is the European bureau chief and provides daily coverage of Europe’s business and economic developments for the entire Marketplace portfolio.

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