China's top court rules for Christian Dior in IP case

Fashion house finally wins battle to register scent bottle trademark

SHANGHAI • China's top court has ruled in favour of French fashion house Christian Dior, overturning rulings by lower courts and rapping the local trademark office for rejecting an application by the firm to register a perfume bottle trademark.

The ruling comes as Beijing looks to play up its credentials for protecting and enforcing intellectual property (IP) rights, after being stung by criticism that it does not do enough to protect against IP infringement.

The United States has threatened China with tariffs on billions of dollars of goods, in part to force Beijing to tackle what Washington calls theft of US intellectual property and forced technology transfers from US companies.

China said this month that it would introduce a system of punitive damages for IP infringements in a bid to strengthen IP enforcement for foreign firms and make sure offenders "pay a big price".

On Thursday, also World Intellectual Property day, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Dior in a suit against the Trademark Review and Adjudication Board after a multi-year court battle.

In July 2015, the French company's application to the Trademark Office of the State Administration for Industry and Commerce for trademark protection for the teardrop design of the bottle used for its J'adore scent in China was rejected. The rejection came because the office determined the bottle's shape and design did not meet the standards of a trademark.

The company has been fighting to get the design of its J'adore perfume bottle recognised in China since 2015.
The company has been fighting to get the design of its J'adore perfume bottle recognised in China since 2015. PHOTO: DIOR

Later, the French company launched an appeal to the Trademark Review and Adjudication Board with the State Administration for Industry and Commerce, but failed to win support.

The company then took the board to court in 2016 and appealed last year, but the verdicts in both the first hearing and the appeal went in favour of the board.

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The perfume has grown popular among consumers after it came into the Chinese market in 1999. Many consumers could easily recognise it as one of Dior's perfumes through the bottle's appearance. So it should be qualified to be a trademark to get protection in line with Chinese laws.

MS LI FENGXIAN, Dior's lawyer, on how Chinese customers see the bottle.

The board's lawyer Sun Mingjuan argued that the bottle should be regarded as a common container for liquors, and it has "no obvious specificity".

But Christian Dior insisted that the bottle is special enough and filed a final appeal to China's top court.

"The perfume has grown popular among consumers after it came into the Chinese market in 1999. Many consumers could easily recognise it as one of Dior's perfumes through the bottle's appearance," Ms Li Fengxian. the company's lawyer, said on Thursday. "So it should be qualified to be a trademark to get protection in line with Chinese laws."

Ms Li said that in 2014, the company got an international registration for the bottle from the World Intellectual Property Organisation. Such a registration could make its trademark application process easier in member countries, "but we were still rebuffed in China", she said.

Dr Cui Guobin, an IP associate professor at China's Tsinghua University, told the China Daily newspaper the ruling showed that the country would protect IP rights "no matter where it was from", but added there was still work to do.

"The ruling also implies that it is necessary to improve our trademark laws," he said.

REUTERS, CHINA DAILY/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 28, 2018, with the headline 'China's top court rules for Christian Dior in IP case'. Print Edition | Subscribe