Despite his popularity, Taiwanese-Canadian fashion designer Jason Wu had his trademark application for his Miss Wu women’s label shot down recently in his native Taiwan. According to the Taiwanese Intellectual Property Court in Taipei, the brand name doesn’t stand out enough in Taiwan, where Wu is the rough equivalent of Jones or Smith.
News of the rejection came just as Michelle Obama strutted across the stage for the inaugural ball wearing an eye-catching red dress, made of chiffon and velvet, created by Wu. The First Lady has also selected a Wu creation for the 2009 inauguration.
“#Inshock!!!” he tweeted when the First Lady stepped out, adorned in his red gown.
After designing Obama’s presidential inaugural ball dresses in 2009 and 2013, it would seem safe to assume that Wu, now 30, has proven himself to the patent overseers of Taipei. These gowns, after all, will be displayed in the Smithsonian’s hallowed halls and in the Presidential Library.
But he’ll have to try harder. When he applied for trademarks for haute couture and accessory lines in 2011, alongside Miss Wu, the first two were approved. Miss Wu, however, was not.
Making his case after the rejection, Wu claimed the name “Miss Wu” resembles the hoot of an owl, which is the icon featured on the label. Approved in the United States and in many European countries, the label’s Spring/Summer 2013 collection is now on sale at Nordstrom. Items in the line are priced from U.S. $195 to U.S. $795.
Taiwanese patent officials have explained that Wu is a very common surname in Taiwan. According to the Taiwanese Ministry of Interior’s Department of Population, Taiwan has 1,989 surnames, of which Wu ranks seventh, accounting for 4.04 percent of the population. For perspective, the top ten surnames on the island account for 53 percent of its population.
What would it take to change the verdict in Taiwan?
According to Wang Mei-hua, director-general of the Intellectual Property Office in Taipei, Wu has not yet provided enough evidence in terms of sales volume, market share, retail foothold and advertising figures to make a definitive case.
“Since both Taiwan’s First Lady Chow Mei-ching and Michelle Obama have worn Miss Wu-branded dresses over the past couple of years, Wu may be granted a trademark registration for the label if he applies again this year,” Wang told Focus Taiwan, adding that he must prove that “Miss Wu” is a fashion label uniquely linked to him.
It remains to be seen whether Wu can win over Taiwan’s patent authorities this year. And while the preferences of America's First Lady may help his case, even in matters of style, data prevails.
Jonathan DeHart is assistant editor for The Diplomat.