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Taiwan misses out big time by dismissing 'Miss Wu'

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- The government may be talking up its ambition of promoting Taipei as a global design capital, but its actions are leading the nation in the opposite direction.

The decision by the Intellectual Property Court (IPC) to reject Taiwanese-American designer Jason Wu's application to register the brand name MISS WU on the same day U.S. first lady Michelle Obama wore Wu's gown at her husband's second Inaugural Ball is one of the best examples of self-inflicted bad press.

“Jason Wu may have won international recognition for twice designing inaugural gowns for U.S. first lady Michelle Obama, but judges in his native Taiwan seem unimpressed,” the Associated Press wrote sardonically.

The IPC based its decision on the grounds that the surname Wu (吳) is too common and that the brand MISS WU too generic. Wang Mei-hua, head of the Intellectual Property Office, suggested that the designer may succeed in his second attempt if he can prove Miss Wu products to be well-recognized by local customers.

While the media and local fashion professionals were quick to slam the IPC's snub of a “pride of Taiwan” designer, the court is right not to show deference to celebrity. The decision's true fault stems from the gross inadequacy of Taiwan's intellectual property laws and the officials' outdated interpretation of brands. The IPC's demand of proof of a brand's popularly in order to establish the brand in the first place is downright Kafkaesque. Imagine where Facebook would be if the U.S. Intellectual Property Court denied the brand name because university facebooks are too common.

If even a globally renowned designer has difficulty negotiating Taiwan's bureaucratic maze, imagine the troubles faced by local young designers. The nation is bursting with creative energy, what it needs most is not government “design capital” campaigns but more understanding of an industry where the youthfulness and unorthodoxy that come with it are vital.

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