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Treasury Wine Estates Gains Ground in its Trademark Lawsuit

Treasury Wine Estates (TWE) claims that Rush Rich Pty Ltd, a bulk-wine producer registered in South Australia, is illegally using TWE’s Ben Fu trademark on their Australian-sourced wines sold in China.

Ben Fu—which translates to “chasing property”—is the name that TWE legally uses in China for wines in its Penfolds’ portfolio, including Grange, Australia’s equivalent to Bordeaux Premier Cru. To conform to local labeling laws, the Chinese characters of Ben Fu are found on the back label and Penfolds’ name is on the front.

The latest ruling was in TWE’s favor, the Australian Trade Marks Office (IP Australia), rejected Rush Rich’s application for the Ben Fu trademark, saying it was clearly “attempting to usurp for itself the ‘Penfolds’ brand’s reputation.”

Carolyn Coon, the TWE spokeswoman, noted IP Australia’s ruling “is in line with the previous position of the Chinese Trade Marks Office, in invaliding Rush Rich’s rights to the Ben Fu Chinese character mark on similar grounds of bad faith.”

Michael Clarke, TWE chief executive, called the trademark infringement “unconscionable.”

“We are putting on notice any bad faith operators in Australia—and anyone working with these operators—that this exploitation will not be tolerated,” said Clarke.

IP Australia’s ruling last week, came after an Australian federal court ordered Rush Rich not to use the Ben Fu trademark until after the lawsuit was heard.

Rush Rich’s effort to bask in the light of Grange’s fame and TWE’s began last year when it issued a press release in Chinese implying that it had a relationship with Australia’s largest wine producer and imitated the labels of Penfolds’ wines to promote its bulk wines.

Scrutiny of Australian wines for export have been restricted to the “truthfulness” of wording on labels, but the Winemakers’ Federation of Australia (WFA) will crack down on deceitful practices and warns if an Australian wine company’s intellectual property is compromised, export licenses might be cancelled or suspended.

“Increasingly, anecdotally, we are hearing that a lot more of these issues are arising,” said Tony Battaglene, WFA Chief Executive. “When wine leaves Australia, we should at least be able to ensure that it is legal.”

The Chinese Wine Association of Australia (CWAA) says it has 120 members, most of whom are in Australia on business visas that provide a path for permanent residency and citizenship. CWAA members are also up in arms over the Rush Rich case.

Kandy Xu, CWAA co-founder, supports TWE’s legal action. “We are all upset,” she said. “This will hurt our members and the Australian brand in China.”

“We thought some wine industry body could do something to stop this action in Australia,” Xu said.

The Asian market accounted for 48% or AUS $117 million ($94.4 million) of TWE’s rise in profits in the first-half of its 2017-18 fiscal year.

Rush Rich has not returned numerous phone calls and emails seeking comment.