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Kenzo fashion label loses suit against winemaker

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Aug 2, 2013.

A wine company has been granted a trademark in Singapore despite objections from an international fashion house of a similar name.

Since 2008, Kenzo Estate - based on the name of Tsujimo Kenzo who founded a winery in California - has been supplying restaurants in the United States and Japan, including some with Michelin stars.

It is looking to launch in Singapore - but encountered opposition from Kenzo, which manufactures and sells high-end clothes, skincare products and fragrances. It has a trademark of its own and a shop in Ngee Ann City mall.

The company argued the word "Kenzo" was the same and that the suffix "Estate" was "merely descriptive" and did not make any visual difference to consumers.

Its lawyer M. Ravindran added that the Paris-based Kenzo has been steadily expanding beyond the fashion business to include sportswear, shoes and furniture.

He added that since it was common for fashion houses to lend their names or endorse alcoholic drinks, the public would draw a connection on seeing the Kenzo Estate winemaker's trademark.

But the wine company's lawyer Yvonne Tang countered that the two logos are dissimilar, pointing out the fashion maker's logo is "heavily stylised" while the winemaker has a "word mark".

She added that there is no "conceptual similarity", as the word Kenzo is a common Japanese name and is also that of the company's founder.

Principal assistant registrar of trademarks See Tho Sok Yee, in judgment grounds last week, held that the marks of the two brands were "visually and conceptually not similar".

She noted that other unrelated businesses with the same name are thriving in Singapore - such as Kenzo Design and Printing, Kenzo Interior and Design and Club de Kenzo.

"It can be perceived as a personal name not uncommonly used in trade in Singapore," she said, adding that the nature of the goods and services being offered made both parties very different.

Ms See Tho added that given the high prices of the products offered by both parties, "the relevant consumer is likely to attach more importance to what is being purchased and exercise a higher degree of circumspection in this regard".

"Being from a discerning class of consumers, he or she is likely to be able to differentiate the applicant's wine easily from the Kenzo fashion brand, which is of French origin."

There was therefore no "confusing connection" between the two products through use of the Kenzo Estate trademark.

The fashion house was ordered to pay costs to the winemaker.

vijayan@sph.com.sg

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Aug 2, 2013.To subscribe to The Straits Times, please go to http://www.sphsubscription.com.sg/eshop/