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Trademark Protection in China

Australian Grape & Wine has recently become aware of a ‘mass’ trade mark application made in China for the registration of over 90 small to medium Australian wine brands.

While it is not unusual for trade mark ‘pirates’ to attempt to gain monopoly over the use of wine brands by registering them ahead of the rightful brand owner, this is the most brazen attempt we have come across. A joint attempt by Wine Australia, DFAT and IP Australia to stymie the applications at an intergovernmental level was unsuccessful.

The Chinese trade mark system operates on a first-in-first-served basis. Even if you have been selling wine in China for many years, an unrelated party can apply to have your brand registered through the Chinese trade mark system and, if successful, can prevent you from using it. While there are some remedies that brand owners can seek – they slow and costly, and best avoided by being first to file.

Having your brand registered in Australia does not afford you protection in China.

While the problem is not specific to China, given the demand for Australian wine in that market and the propensity for opportunistic applications to be made there, Australian exporters even contemplating doing business in that market should prioritise the registration of their brand as a trade mark there.

Careful consideration should be given where a distributor offers to register your brand on your behalf as, if registered in the distributors name, that distributor ultimately gains monopoly over the use of your brand in China. Brands should be registered in the name of the rightful Australian brand owner.

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