After a legal battle that lasted 22 years, the Chinese Supreme Court has finally agreed with Manolo Blahnik. Thus, having defeated the trademark “Manolo & Blahnik” (whose application for registration dates back to January 1999), he can now start selling directly in China. Yes, because the fraudulent trademark, traceable to Chinese businessman Fang Yuzhou, prevented the British company from selling directly in China. “I’d have a heart attack if I really had to do the sums, ” the designer said of the legal costs incurred over four decades of litigation. The ruling could set a precedent for other brands embroiled in similar legal battles.
Fang Yuzhou filed the “Manolo & Blahnik” trade mark application in 1999, we said. And saw China Trade Mark Office (CTMO) grant it in 2000. Shortly afterwards, it fell to the real Manolo Blahnik to lodge an opposition with the CTMO, initiating a costly and demanding legal dispute. The European company saw several appeals rejected because it could not prove that it had a reputation in China (i.e. that it was already popular) before 2000. The “landmark” ruling, which came after a 22-year wait, will now allow the British luxury shoe manufacturer to sell directly in the Asian country for the first time.
Sigh of relief
“It was a huge hole in our existence,” Kristina Blahnik, CEO of the brand and granddaughter of the founder, told the Financial Times. Blahnik said the company’s plans for the Chinese market are still in the early stages. But she hopes to start selling directly in the People’s Republic by the second half of next year.
The first-to-file system
China has a “first to file” system of trademark registration. This has made many international companies vulnerable to “patent pirates“, i.e., those who try to register the same or very similar trademarks as global ones, burning the actual owners in time. Julie Zerbo, founder and editor-in-chief of The Fashion Law, explains to Jing Daily that the ruling is “perfectly in line with what we are seeing from the trademark office and the various levels of Chinese courts”. She points out how the Chinese system can “take notice of bad faith trademark filing practices and give foreign brands a chance to claim their rights”.