Château Ausone gagne son proces contre un trademark squatter chinois

The Le Figaro newspaper echoed the opinion of the Inlex law firm regarding their work against wine counterfeiting in China (Published on 23/07/2013 in Le Figaro – Wine) : 

The prestigious Bordeaux wine-producer, Château de Saint-Emilion, won its case in China when a Chinese Private individual applied for the “Château Ausone” name. However, defending trademarks is a never-ending battle.

Try it out yourself. Type into your internet browser and you will be led to a website that has little or nothing to do with the First Growth “A” classed wine from Saint-Emilion. As with all châteaux wines from Bordeaux, Ausone is a target for trademark squatting– an operation that anyone can carry out by applying outside of France for a maximum number of possible trademarks. It is a simple first come first serve principle. As a result, many French châteaux are unable to use their own names in foreign countries.

In China, the châteaux from Bordeaux, which local people consider prestigious, are the most commonly targeted wines. “For Château Ausone, we found someone who ran a small computer business and who had applied for over 200 châteaux names with the Chinese Industrial Property Office” said Jean-Baptiste Thial de Bordenave, a legal specialist in wine and alcohol law at the Inlex IP expertise law firm. “We went after this person, and the Chinese Trademark Office, being a competent institution, helped us win the case with the argument that the individual could not have been unaware of the existence of the world-renowned Château Ausone. It was acknowledged that he had acted in bad faith” he said. The Château therefore regained the rights to its own trademark in China.

A daily struggle

The practice of trademark squatting brings handsome financial rewards to the person who spots unprotected domain names. By getting a hold of these trademark names, one can then bribe the legitimate owners to buy back their own name.

“It’s a daily battle”, said Alain Vauthier, owner and manager of Château Ausone. “It is a bit like having to protect your house. It’s an asset that you have to protect, or you will end up losing it”.

He went on to state that “wine producers must be mindful that they must not only apply for their name in France with the National Institute for Industrial Property (INPI), but with all other countries, or else, you run a huge risk of losing ownership of your name”.

Trademark squatting is growing in China because it is a very difficult practice to detect. Mr. Thial de Bordenave points out that “with Chinese ideograms, Château Ausone can be written in seven or eight different ways”.

“Yet, the fight is not limited to China” said Mr. Vauthier. “It applies to all countries where wine is very highly valued. I personally have around 10 to 15 cases underway at the Inlex law firm”.

Some years back, the United States was under surveillance. Nowadays, the emerging economies like India or Brazil are the ones most anxious to join in this game of cops and robbers.

The hope for jurisprudence

Trademark squatting reinforces the idea that the vision of wine, or its best vineyards/vintages for that matter, is now global.  The name “Champagne” is recognized all over the world, yet some wine producers openly appropriate it. Fighting against trademark dispossession therefore requires precise and continuous surveillance. “It’s tough work. We have put a whole network of lawyers in place, who specialize in wine and trademark law, in 15 countries with the highest wine sales”, says Mr. Thial de Bordenave of Inlex. “The goal in these countries is to carry out rigorous surveillance. Surveillance on the internet, on trademark applications, as well as wine merchants or restaurants involved in counterfeit”.

The problem is growing rapidly as new technologies are developed but it is not always known by the same name. “It is even quite an old practice. Thirty years ago, with the help of competent individuals, Château Latour was already doing the groundwork to protect its name and trademark” recalls Mr. Vauthier of Château Ausone. There were also all sorts of applications. “I also remember that there were condoms named ‘Saint-Emilion’” he said with laugh.

This battle obviously comes at a cost with the global network of specialized lawyers and the daily tracking systems set up by specialized law firms. “It has already cost me 100,000 euros” said Mr. Vauthier on the price of preserving the Château Ausone trademark. “We hope that this decision sets a legal precedent” said Mr. Thial de Bordenave. It is also hoped that the decision curbs the enthusiasm of the trademark squatters.

Leave a Comment