An Introduction to Intellectual Property Protection and Enforcement in China and South-East Asia

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This article is written by our China IP Expert, Ms Alessandra Chies, on the occasion of the Texworld Trade Fair, the No.1 European Trade Fair for Worldwide Apparel Sourcing which this year took place in Paris on 18-21 September. It gathered over 600 international suppliers, companies and EU SMEs, as well as about 950 fabrics manufacturers from 27 countries. 90px-Aguayos This article provides a concise yet comprehensive introduction to Intellectual Property protection and enforcement in China and South-East Asia, and summarizes the main talking points discussed by Alessandra Chies at Texworld on 18 September 2017. 

Intellectual Property (IP) protection is a primary method for securing a return on investment in innovation, offering to IP owners a competitive edge that others will not have. SMEs invest a tremendous amount of time, passion and monetary efforts in R&D and marketing, but often fail to consider that, in most countries, the only way to enjoy exclusive rights over their creative efforts and their business identity (trademark) is through IPRs registration. Considering that in the textile sector one single product can brilliantly encompass almost all form of IP rights, understanding and defending them is a paramount objective: a Patent for the new man-made yarn, the Design for an innovative texture of the fabric, the Copyright for the drawing painted on it, the Trade-secret for the dying procedure and the Trademark as representation of the business identity, all in one small piece of cloth.

The point is that Trademarks, Designs, Patents, are territorial rights and most countries adopt the first to file principle: this means in practice that the IPRs belong to their creator only if their creator was the first one to register it in that Country. And each Country in the world has its set of rules, its peculiarities, its advantages and pitfalls. Without being secured through registration, with the assistance of lawyers, expert in the jurisdiction, your IPRs can be freely exploited by anybody else. Considering the importance of the China market and the wonderful opportunities it offers in terms of production abilities, raw and semi-processed materials and the growing purchasing power and awareness of Chinese consumers, SMEs cannot afford to put-off investments in IP registration and enforcement in China and in the South-East Asian countries that are slowly but steadily emerging. Continue reading “An Introduction to Intellectual Property Protection and Enforcement in China and South-East Asia” »

Terroir IPR Part 2: Regulatory bodies and collective action against counterfeiting

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In our previous article we discussed wine’s history as a product heavily reliant on geography, soil quality, and climate, or terroir for its unique characteristics, the resultant importance of regional classifications, and the legal protection available for producers based in distinctive wine regions. In this article we’ll be looking at how certain regulatory bodies and wine associations can, and in some cases already do, help producers to protect the reputations of their brands. Finally we’ll look at how the wine industry can come together to tackle the counterfeiting industry which continues to damage the sales and reputation of this much loved beverage.

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Some weeks ago, we contacted INAO, Institut National de l’Origine et de la Qualité, The National Institute of Origin and Quality, France’s public administrative authority responsible for the implementation of French policy on official signs of identification of the origin and quality of agricultural and food products, including wine.

Over the last decade, INAO has worked hard to protect French PDOs and PGIs in China, and has seen its actions in China increase considerably between 2008 and 2015. Indeed INAO has seen bad faith trade mark registrations of French GIs quadruple in recent years with just 12 predatory French GI registrations in 2009 rising to 60 in 2014 with no sign of a reduction in numbers. In their experience these have been a mix of true ‘trade mark squatters’, simply out to make a profit, as well as shady importers of genuine GIs registering trade marks in an attempt to gain exclusivity over the market, thereby ignoring the collective nature of GIs.

INAO, like other national bodies, has not sat idly by however, and has filed numerous opposition or annulment actions before the Chinese Trade Mark Office (CTMO) against marks which infringe French GIs. The average cost of these actions comes to around €2,000 and as the number of infringing applications is on the rise they are beginning to feel the strain on their budget.

As such, INAO has been less able to involve itself in ‘boots on the ground’ investigations and actions against individual counterfeiters. Representatives have expressed their dissatisfaction at their inability to tackle these counterfeiters, who are damaging the industry as a whole, however the prohibitive costs in tackling the numerous infringers is too high for their already overstretched budget and they need more support if they are to tackle the roots of the problem.

Regional organisations have also made attempts at reducing the problems of counterfeiting in China. The Bordeaux Wine Council; Conseil Interprofessionel du Vin de Bordeaux (CIVB)[1] has been working for years to combat wine fraud, and with the help of the French Finance Ministry runs a specialist laboratory to test suspected fakes, as well as commissioning an app; Smart Bordeaux[2], which allows buyers to check the details of vintages by taking a photo of a wine label or scanning a bar code[3].

In January 2011, the CIVB engaged Nick Bartman, a specialist counterfeit investigator, to put together a team and investigate wine counterfeiting in China[4]. However due to budget constraints, the scope of the investigation was limited, as was the legal action which followed. The team’s actions on behalf of the CIVB resulted in an estimated €30 million worth of damage to counterfeiting operations. Bartman believes however that without the limits on investigative scope and freedom to litigate, this figure could have been vastly improved. With more time, and a fully-fledged cross-border investigation, enough damage could be done to infringement operations to significantly deter future wine counterfeiting in the region.

In addition to Mr Bartman’s activities, the CIVB has also engaged another old China hand; Thomas Jullien. Based out of Hong Kong, Mr Jullien and his team work both to promote Bordeaux wines in China, as well as chase down counterfeits and tackle infringers. In their anti-counterfeiting efforts Thomas’s team work to register GIs for all of Bordeaux’s 50 appellations, as well as track down and take action against infringers. This project has now been active for over 5 years and has removed a great number of counterfeits from the market. However, enforcement remains a key issue and even though Thomas’s team focus their efforts on large scale infringers, with more obvious counterfeits, lack of education within enforcement authorities regarding wine counterfeiting means that officials in less experienced bureaus remain reluctant to take risks to shut down infringers. Without the resources to help educate the numerous local authorities around China, this barrier to enforcement will remain and successful actions will be limited primarily to first tier cities, thereby limiting the effective impact that these experienced anti-counterfeiting teams can have on national production.

It’s not just the investigators feeling this frustration; Dr. Paolo Beconcini, managing partner at Carroll, Burdick & McDonough LLP[5], has spent more than 15 years taking down counterfeiters in China for some of the biggest brands in business and has studied and written on wine counterfeiting in the past[6]. Paolo’s philosophy when it comes to counterfeiters is akin to a well-aimed sledgehammer; once found you have to hit them fast, and you have to hit them hard. This ‘shock and awe’ tactic is incredibly effective, and works not only to close down the immediate counterfeiting operations, but also to deter other counterfeiters of those products.

Each year, Paolo attends working groups for the Quality Brands Protection Committee of China (QBPC)[7], as well as Interpol’s China and South-East Asia Trafficking in Illicit Goods and Counterfeiting Sub-Directorate[8] which provides training for customs officials and police on recognition of products, thereby assisting them in carrying out the investigations and raids which have marked Paolo’s successful career.

These working groups, and the lobbying clout they represent could catapult the wine industry into the crosshairs for Chinese police officials, and yet representatives are conspicuously absent from their memberships. Without the education and support of these Chinese officials, and relying on the comparatively shallow pockets of individual producers and organisations like the CIVB, the wine industry is unable to bring to bear the strength necessary to tackle the now established counterfeiting operations which continue to damage profits and reputations of wine producers around the world.

For lasting success in the war against counterfeiters, a much larger coalition is required; a global wine protection initiative with the support of national and regional wine associations, importers, retailers, and individual producers. With this kind of backing individual costs would be slight, but the political weight and financial power behind the investigators and legal teams would be the greatest threat yet seen by counterfeiters in any industry.

Alex Bayntun-Lees
China IPR SME Helpdesk

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The China IPR SME Helpdesk supports small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) from European Union (EU) member states to protect and enforce their Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) in or relating to China, Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan, through the provision of free information and services. The Helpdesk provides jargon-free, first-line, confidential advice on intellectual property and related issues, along with training events, materials and online resources. Individual SMEs and SME intermediaries can submit their IPR queries via email (question@china-iprhelpdesk.eu) and gain access to a panel of experts, in order to receive free and confidential first-line advice within 3 working days.

The China IPR SME Helpdesk is co-funded by the European Union.

To learn more about the China IPR SME Helpdesk and any aspect of intellectual property rights in China, please visit our online portal at http://www.ipr-hub.eu/.

[1] http://www.bordeaux.com/

[2] https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/smart-bordeaux-bordeaux-wines/id404568006?mt=8

[3] http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/07aa952e-1345-11e5-ad26-00144feabdc0.html#ixzz3ron4bpRI

[4] Suzanne Mustacich. (2015). Thirsty Dragon, China’s Lust for Bordeaux and the Threat to the World’s Best Wines. London: Henry Holst and Co. p130-156.

[5] http://www.cbmlaw.com/

[6] https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/china-counterfeiters-wine-business-paolo-beconcini?trk=prof-post

[7] http://www.qbpc.org.cn/

[8] http://www.interpol.int/Crime-areas/Trafficking-in-illicit-goods-and-counterfeiting/Trafficking-in-illicit-goods-and-counterfeiting

Terroir IPR Part 1: Geographical Indications and IP Protection for Your Appellation of Origin

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The wine industry is characterised by a wide variety of producers, often very much linked to specific grapes, blends and terrains. The European Union has put in place a system of Geographical Indications (GIs), that are used to distinguish the origin of goods, often also linked to the quality and reputation of a purple-grapes-vineyard-napa-valley-napa-vineyard-45209specific product. In China, a large market for European wines, these GIs are as important, and once registered they are protected as trademarks. Nonetheless, as with trade marks, it is important to monitor the market for infringement of GIs and act against illegitimate users of your collective mark.
Wine has been classified by region for almost the entirety of its long and varied history, the Ancient Greeks stamped amphorae with the seal of the region they came from, and references to wine, identified by region are found throughout the Bible and other religious texts. Whilst this tradition of geographical identification continued throughout Antiquity and the Middle Ages, it was only in 1716, with the introduction of the Chianti region in Italy, protected by edict of the then Grand Duke of Tuscany.

Today, the concepts of appellation and terroir have spread around the world. France protects over 300 Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC)[1], and Italy over 400 Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) and Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) wines[2]. With similar systems and numerous varieties are grown and protected throughout Europe and the rest of the world, appellation of origin plays an important role in the classification of wines, as well as consumer decision making. As a result, the protection of the integrity of this classification system is of paramount importance to producers, distributors, retailers, and of course, consumers.

Protection of the appellation of origin of a product falls to the legal principles associated with so called Geographical Indications (GIs). Similar to trade marks, GIs are distinctive signs used to distinguish the origin of goods, thereby enabling consumers to accurately associate a particular quality or reputation with the products in question.

GIs differ from trade marks however in that rather than protecting a single producer’s rights, they protect a whole class, based on their geographical location and the production methods used. GIs therefore ‘belong to all those resident producers who comply with the specific by-laws and regulations set to ensure that the consumer ‘link’ between the quality /reputation of a product and its place of origin is maintained.[3]

Continue reading “Terroir IPR Part 1: Geographical Indications and IP Protection for Your Appellation of Origin” »

The Thirst of the Dragon: An Introduction to the Growth of Popularity & Counterfeiting of Wine in the Middle Kingdom

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Pouring_a_glass_of_red_wine.tiff“Wine is one of the most civilized things in the world . . . it offers a greater range for enjoyment and appreciation than, possibly, any other purely sensory thing.” 

― Ernest Hemingway 

Wine. The Greeks honoured this sacred beverage with its own deity, the Christian faith honour it as part of the sacred rite of Eucharist, and today, the history and quality of less ancient vintages has created a thriving trade around the world. 

Making up the majority of what the wine industry now calls the “Old World”, Europe combines a rich history of viticulture and winemaking with modern technological innovation. In recent years, Europe’s love of wine has proved especially infectious to developing palettes in East Asia, and over the last few decades Chinese consumption has surged, overtaking France as the largest consumer of red wine worldwide. This being said, room for growth in China remains as the Chinese continue to lag behind other nations in terms of individual consumption; in 2014, France’s 51.9 litre per capita consumption dwarfed China’s mere 1.5 litres.  

Europe’s old guard wineries seem well-poised to capitalise on this growth. They have spent hundreds of years perfecting their craft, and European ‘old world’ wines are sought after around the world. As a result, Chinese consumers primarily turn to Europe to slake their thirst for foreign wines— with the Middle Kingdom relying on European imports for 65% of its foreign wine trade. French reds are in particular favour, with 48% of China’s imported wines starting life on French vines, although wine produced in Germany, Spain, and Italy also enjoys considerable popularity amongst Chinese consumers1. 

However, in spite of Europe’s advantages, Chinese consumers still show a preference for domestically produced wines and more than 80% of wine consumed within China is produced domestically. According to independent critic and wine expert Jancis Robinson (MW)2, quality alone does not account for this disparity. Robinson, widely held in high regard for her independent critique and support of new industry and independent wineries, has routinely visited China over the last decade to sample the country’s developing vintages. As such Jancis is uniquely qualified to comment on the development of Chinese wines, and tells us that though Chinese winemaking has improved greatly in recent years, most producers still lag behind the established vines and vintners of Europe in terms of quality.  Continue reading “The Thirst of the Dragon: An Introduction to the Growth of Popularity & Counterfeiting of Wine in the Middle Kingdom” »

IPR Protection in China for the Fashion Industry

fashion2The fashion industry is booming in China and offering also many promising business opportunities  to European SMEs as Chinese consumers appreciate European fashion design. European SMEs should, however, keep in mind that even though Chinese IP laws and regulations have improved a lot, counterfeiting and other IP infringements are still commonplace in China. This blog post gives an overview of IP protection in the fashion industry and explains through one well-known case study the importance of registering also the Chinese version of your brand.  

The fashion industry encompasses the design, manufacturing, distribution, retailing, marketing and promotion of clothing, footwear and accessories and is worth billions of Euros every year.

While the fashion industry initially developed in Europe and the United States (the Italian footwear industry is one of the largest in the world and the textile industry is one of the United States’ most important employers in the manufacturing sector), today, fashion is an international and highly globalized sector.

China’s fashion industry, for instance, is set to become the world’s second largest fashion market by 2020, with sales expected to reach over RMB 1.3 trillion (EUR 182 billion) – roughly three times their current level.[1] According to the Boston Consulting Group, China will account for 30% of the global fashion market’s growth over the next five years.[2]  Continue reading “IPR Protection in China for the Fashion Industry” »