The Next Vintage: The Future of Wine Anti-Counterfeiting; Advice from our Experts

Corks smallToday’s blog post will sum up our Wine series that we have been running for the past couple of weeks and discusses the future of IP protection in the wine industry.

Wine counterfeiting in China is at a critical stage for the European wine industry. In recent years we have had a taste of what Chinese consumption means to the European producers, with over a quarter of a billion litres of European wine consumed annually by what represents only a fraction of the potential market in China. As the market moves from commodity and gift wines to drinking ‘table’ wine, so do the counterfeiters, flooding supermarkets and restaurants with wines bearing (often validly registered) appellation marks which have no connection to the liquid inside the bottle.

Chinese palates are at a crucial developmental stage, and exposure to poor quality counterfeits of European wine not only damages profits, but also poisons the reputation of European producers in the Chinese marketplace. Competition with domestic producers is already fierce, and Europe’s wine industry can no longer afford to stand by and let this threat go unchallenged.

As we saw in our ‘Terroir IPR’ articles, producers do not stand alone in the fight against counterfeiting, and national agencies such as INAO, as well as regional regulatory bodies such as the CIVB are in working to register GIs and combat the most obvious fraudsters. These two organisations are a minority however, and their pockets alone are not deep enough to fund a comprehensive campaign. Without support of more organisations, and ultimately the producers they serve, they can only do so much to slow the poisonous effects of counterfeiting in China. Continue reading “The Next Vintage: The Future of Wine Anti-Counterfeiting; Advice from our Experts” »

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” »

Bodega Branding: The How, What, When, and Why of Wine IPR Protection

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In our last article we sang a song of growth and prosperity for the wine industry in China, fuelled by the staggering figures of industry growth and Chinese wine consumption in recent years. This was tempered somewhat by the somewhat tragic tales of the relatively unimpeded development of a parasitic counterfeiting industry which continues to sap the profits of wine producers, damage reputations, and in some cases harm consumers in the process1. 

Today however we’ll be striking a more positive note, and looking at how producers and distributors can utilise the established IPR protection framework maintained by the People’s Republic of China and defend the reputation of their products. 

Traditional Anti-Counterfeiting Measures 

Tamper proof seals, holograms, and other authentication technologies have long been used by vintners to identify the authenticity of their products to their consumers. Unfortunately, counterfeiters have been working almost as long to develop copies of these so-called preventative measures, and as a result they have done little more than slow the progress of counterfeiters in copying new products. 

In fact, even if consumers have the inclination or opportunity to check these identifiers, the sophistication of counterfeiters has now reached the point where even the producers themselves have difficulty in identifying fakes, and are forced to rely on laboratory testing to identify counterfeits2. 

Producers and distributors can no longer rely on traditional, physical measures alone to combat counterfeiting, and must also take advantage of the other tools at their disposal. 

Continue reading “Bodega Branding: The How, What, When, and Why of Wine IPR Protection” »

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” »