The Drinks Business reported last week that renowned cognac producer Hennessy won a trademark case in China against a Beijing company for trademark infringement and unfair competition. As demonstrated previously, China can be a difficult market for true brand owners to obtain trademark. See, e.g., Kasite Trademark Sours for French Vintner Caste; see also What’s in a Name: French Winery Forced to Change Trademark to Avoid Squatters. However, several recent cases indicate that China’s ways may be changing. See, e.g., Chateau Ausone Wins Trademark Case in China.
The recent Hennessy case indicates the latter: possible improvement in the legal measure to protect true brand owners in China. According to The Drinks Business, Societe Jas Hennessy registered its trademark in China in 1980 and opened its office in Beijing and started business in China in 1995 (i.e., under its registered trademark Hennessy). Hennessy is well known throughout the Chinese market and its products are enjoyed by many Chinese consumers.
In November of 2012, the company discovered that Beijing company, Beijing Yan Wei Hong Trading Cooperation, used Hennessy as a trademark on its products and sold such illegally. “It was reported that the Beijing company bought the ‘Hennessy XO’ and ‘Hennessy VSOP’ below the market price and then sold them at a higher price. Both products used four registered trademark owned by Hennessy.” Hennessy Wins Chinese Trademark Case. Both Chaoyang District Industrial and Commercial Bureau examined the case and determined that Beijing Yan Wei Hong Trading Cooperation had, in fact, infringed upon Hennessy’s trademark. Id. The cooperation was ordered to cease the infringement, pay a high sum to Hennessy, and apologize to Hennessy in the national newspaper. Id.
Hennessy is one of several victors over the last few months with respect to trademark suits in China. In May, Bordeaux wine company Château Ausone opposed the registration of a Chinese ideogram that translated to “Ausone,” and won despite that the château did not hold the registration rights to the mark. Subsequently, négociant Barrière Frères opposed the third-party registration of a ship logo thought to be too similar to the négociant’s. Barrière Frères won the case, despite that the third-party registration had previously been approved.
The Hennessy case demonstrates that the legal protection of registered trademarks in China many be strengthening, with restitution options for true brand owners becoming more forceful. However, in the case of Hennessy, it is important to recognize that Hennessy did have a registered trademark in China many years prior, which may have strengthened its infringement case. While this victory differs from those of both Château Ausone and négociant Barrière Frères, all three outcomes can still be seen in a positive light for true brand owners seeking to enter China’s market and avoid trademark scandals.
For more information on China, trademark, and the wine industry, please see my recent publication, No Wine-ing: The Story of Wine Companies and Trademark in China, courtesy of The Cornell Journal of International Law Online.