SHANGHAI -- Toyota Motor Corp. is suing China's Geely Group, accusing the mainland's sole private car maker of infringing its copyright, officials of both companies said on Tuesday.
Toyota accused Geely in December of using a logo similar to Toyota's in its "Meiri" sedans, which Toyota said could mislead customers, in the latest of a series of lawsuits against Chinese companies for copyright infractions.
Toyota said it had asked Geely, which planned to list at home or overseas by 2004, to stop using that logo, but decided to file the lawsuit in a Beijing court in December when Geely didn't respond.
Toyota was now demanding 14 million yuan ($1.7 million) in compensation from Geely, an official at the Chinese company said.
"Toyota's claims are utter rubbish. We're confident of winning this case," a Geely spokesman told Reuters from the company's headquarters in the eastern city of Hangzhou.
He said the lawsuit also touched upon Geely's use of engines made by Tianjin Toyota Motor Co. Ltd., a joint venture between Toyota and Chinese partner Tianjin Xiali Automobile.
Geely said Toyota had accused it of installing the engines illegally. But Toyota denied the lawsuit involved engines.
"The lawsuit is only pertaining to our company emblem, which is intellectual property," Shinya Matsumoto, a Toyota spokesman in Tokyo told Reuters.
Toyota's dispute with Geely is not the first in China's burgeoning auto sector.
A WORRYING ISSUE
Last year, Volkswagen AG said original parts produced by the German company had been illegally used in the Chery sedan made by SAIC-Chery Automobile Co. Ltd.
SAIC-Chery said it used technology bought legally from the German firm. Volkswagen finally agreed with Chery suppliers that they would stop using original VW parts.
Experts say inadequate enforcement of intellectual property rights in China is a worrying issue as foreign firms invest in the country's liberalizing markets.
Last month, Cisco Systems Inc. filed a lawsuit in the United States against Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd, alleging China's largest telecoms gear maker copied its operating software unlawfully.
Also in January, European toy maker Lego said it won a case lodged in Beijing against a Chinese company found to have copied elements of its famous building blocks illegally.
Toyota is just one of a slew of auto giants rushing to expand capacity or set up shop in the world's fastest-growing car market, which saw annual sales of passenger cars break the one million mark for the first time last year.
The company plans to build 300,000 to 400,000 vehicles annually in China by 2010 under an alliance with the country's First Automotive Works, which controls Toyota's partner Xiali.
Toyota officials in both Tokyo and Beijing declined to comment further on the case, adding they were resorting to the courts to resolve this dispute.
The official Xinhua news agency reported that a court hearing was scheduled for March in Beijing.