Court ruling on bottle seen as 'significant' for IP protection

By Cao Yin (China Daily) Updated : 2018-04-27

The water droplet-shaped bottle of J'adore, a popular perfume from French fashion house Christian Dior, may become a protected trademark in China after all following a decision from the nation's top court that overturned previous rulings and ordered another review on the company's IP application.

The Supreme People's Court reheard the lawsuit between the company and the Trademark Review and Adjudication Board with the State Administration for Industry and Commerce on April, which coincidentally was World IP Day.

After a two-hour public hearing, the top court revoked the original rulings made by local courts in Beijing, which rejected the company's application to register the bottle design as a trademark.

"The latest verdict is significant. It shows our country's equal protection on IP rights no matter where it is from," Cui Guobin, an IP associate professor with Tsinghua University, said after attending the hearing at the top court.

Court ruling on bottle seen as 'significant' for IP protection

"It will also be a guidebook for lower-level courts when they face similar circumstances in future case hearings," he said.

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 bottle design in China was rejected. The rejection came because the office determined the bottle's shape and design didn't meet the standards of a trademark.

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 brought the board to court in 2016 and appealed in 2017, but both verdicts in the first hearing and appeal hearing ruled in favor of the board. Sun Mingjuan, the board's lawyer, 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 Chinese market in 1999. Many consumers could easily recognize it as one of Dior's perfumes through the bottle's appearance," 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."

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

Whether the bottle can be verified as a trademark depends on a member country's laws, and such a conflict has showed the gap between the Chinese Trademark Law and international rules, she said.

Although whether the bottle can be registered as a trademark in China still depends on the coming review of the board, said Cui, from Tsinghua University, adding the approval rate is high.

He said the ruling from the top court reflects on how China abides by international IP rules and on the court's positive attitude in solving foreign-related IP disputes.

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