There’s been a lot of news over the last few months with respect to China and wine trademarks, especially with respect to French winemakers. See, e.g., Is China Making a Step Forward in Wine Trademark Law? and French Wine Company Castel Frères to Pursue Trademark Battle Against Panati in China’s Supreme Court. On May 1, China’s new trademark law went into effect. The new law presents a number of significant changes, some of which are highlighted below:
- Aims to deter trademark hijacking (or squatting) by imposing an obligation to uphold the principle of good faith on new mark filings and similar for trademark agencies, and recognition of bad faith extended further;
- Attempts to deter infringement by, i.e., raising the compensation ceiling for trademark infringement to about $500,000 (U.S.), or roughly six times the previous limit;
- Greatly increases the allowable types of marks to be registered (inclusive of sound marks); and
- Overall increased improvement of administrative filing details such as introducing timelines for processing reviews and oppositions.
For more details on China’s new trademark law, see Trademark Law of the People’s Republic of China (2013, Comparison Version) and, for insight with respect to the wine industry, Section 4 of No Wine-ing: The Story of Wine Companies and Trademark in China.
This last week, a group of French wine authorities received a significant victory at a Beijing court with respect to trademark registration. A Chinese company sought to register the Chinese translation of Roussillon as a brand name as well as the Latin version of Roussillon and Banyuls, but its wines did not contain grapes from the Southern French wine region. See Roussillon Winemakers Win Trademark Case in China. The Tribunal of Commerce and Industry annulled the request to register on the grounds that registering Roussillon as a brand name had the potential to cause consumer confusion.
Is this the work of China’s new trademark law? Perhaps. At this point, and until we start to see more cases with similar results, it is hard to say. The new Trademark Law does clarify the terms of likelihood of confusion, and verifies that there must be a likelihood of confusion when similar marks are used on goods that are either the same or similar. Perhaps it is a strong enough outcome right now that the Court ruled against what might otherwise promote consumer confusion in the wine market. Still, it will be easier to conclude in favor of the new law should this case have the same (or similar) result on appeal. (As of now, the Chinese company is reportedly appealing the ruling of the Tribunal of Commerce and Industry. See id.) There have been both favorable and unfavorable results with respect to trademark registrations in China (before the new law went into effect), and one positive result may be too early to conclude the effectiveness of the amendments.
DISCLAIMER: This blog post is not intended as legal advice, and no attorney-client relationship results. Please consult your own attorney for legal advice.