Whisky giant Chivas Regal in China battle to save name

ONE of the world’s most recognisable whisky brands is locked in a court battle in China over ownership of its name.

Chivas Brothers, which produces Chivas Regal, has failed in its initial attempt to stop a Chinese businessman, believed to live in the south-east of the country, from manufacturing clothing branded with the Chivas Regal logo.

The brand, owned by the drinks conglomerate Pernod Ricard, has been caught in a grey area of Chinese law which has seen a rise in western companies falling victim to “trademark squatting”.

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China gives pre-eminence to the person who registers the trademark first, whether or not they are the original manufacturer. The practice of trademark squatting is rife in China, as small-time businesses scramble to make money from western brands.

Teen pop idol Justin Bieber, Oprah Winfrey and the popular video game Angry Birds have all been registered, while the Facebook trademark has been used to market a number of goods, including football studs and condoms, even though the social networking site is banned in China.

The luxury clothing and accessories company Hermes International recently lost a bid to stop a small Chinese clothing maker from making neck ties under the luxury brand’s Chinese name.

In Chivas’ case, the businessman, identified in court documents by his surname Wen, first lodged ownership of Chivas Regal as a trademark for exclusively producing clothing, shoes and caps. The whisky company went to court to have the man stripped of this right, but in March the Beijing No. 1 Intermediate People’s Court ruled in favour of the current holder of the trademark.

The Chinese trademark board, which adjudicates over contested claims, had already ruled against Chivas’ claim at an earlier hearing, stating that the Zhejiang man had not violated the country’s trademark law because the brand is used in different kinds of products. Rejecting Chivas’ appeal on this decision, the Beijing court also said the company had failed to establish that the spirits brand was “well-known” in China before the registration of Chivas Regal clothing.

Despite the ruling, a spokeswoman for the whisky company said it pledged to fight on.

“The name Chivas – both in English and Chinese characters – and Chivas Regal, in English, were recognised in 2009 by the Chinese Trade Marks Office as well-known trade marks in China,” she said.

“Third parties may not use or register Chivas, in English or Chinese, or Chivas Regal, in English, or any similar words for any goods – not only spirits – where such use may cause confusion in China. We will continue to protect our trademark in China and appeal decisions that challenge this.”