One of France’s largest wine companies, Castel Freres, spends hundreds of thousands of euros annually to protect trademarks on its wine in China. Counterfeit wine is a frequently reported issue in China, it is hard to quantify, but the ability of foreign wine chateaux and estates to secure trademark protection is also a recurring theme in the middle kingdom. Castel has been relatively successful at securing a foothold in China’s emerging wine market, but the French wine merchant Castel has recently lost its lengthy legal battle over the company’s trademark in China.
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What’s In A Name?
The legal dispute was with a Chinese distributor over the Ka-Si-Te name, which is arguably one of the best known Chinese translations of Castel. The case had been referred to China’s Supreme Court, and a 30m Chinese yuan fine (£3m) initially levied on Castel has been suspended pending a fresh hearing.
According to Chinese media, the Zhejiang Provincial Higher People’s Court ruled Castel must stop using the Chinese trademark Kasite on its wines. Castel has to pay a fine of CNY33.73 million (over £3.6 million) to Panati Wine and its Spanish-Chinese owner LI Daozhi, and well as issuing a public apology through the China Industry & Commerce News publication. The basis of the case dates back to the late 1990s, when Wenzhou-born entrepreneur LI Daozhi started the wine distribution company Panati Wine to introduce Spanish wines to the Chinese wine market, and applied for the registration of trademark Kasite in 1998. The application was granted in 2000.
In 2008, LI established a secondary company Cavesmaitre Wine Co., Ltd with its Chinese name as Kasite. Unlike the Panati Wine, the new company focused on importing French wine to China under the brand name Kasite. Castel began bottling wine in China in 1999, and the Chinese translation of its name was known as Kasite by Chinese wine consumers. Castel successfully submitted a request to cancel the trademark in 2005 for the reason that it had not been used for three years, but later LI appealed and won it back. After the original verdict, both plaintiff and defendant submitted appeals, and the case was brought to Zhejiang Provincial Higher Court, which upheld the previous verdict, and ordering an extra published apology from Castel. The Castel Group announced its new registered Chinese trademark
Translations Officially Approved
Earlier this year, China’s Ministry of Commerce approved a list of official translations for popular wine terms, including many Bordeaux chateau names. It is the first of its kind, but the list was understood to have been devised as a guideline rather than a mandatory requirement for wine companies wishing to use Chinese translations.
Several wine place names have gained greater legal protection in China in recent years, with Napa Valley and Champagne both enjoying protected status. Bordeaux was added to the list in July this year and talks were underway to extend the deal to specific Bordeaux appellations.
Learn more about the wine industry in China here