Igor Normann /
4 September 2014Trademarks

UK government helps Scotch whisky win in China

Trade body the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA), with the help of the UK government, has persuaded the Chinese authorities to reject 12 trademarks.

The SWA had tried to overturn the registrations, all incorporating the word ‘glen’, but the Chinese IP office said there was insufficient evidence connecting the term to Scotch whisky.

‘Glen’ is a Scottish term for a narrow valley.

The SWA, whose members include the distillers of Glenmorangie and Glen Grant, often targets trademarks including that word because such registrations might suggest an affiliation with authentic Scotch whisky.

To support its 12 cases in China, the SWA filed evidence including lists of Scottish place names, distilleries and Scotch whisky labels that contain the word ‘glen’.

After the filings were rejected, the UK’s IP attaché to China, Tom Duke, stepped in by writing a letter of support. His letter confirmed that ‘glen’ is a genuine Scottish word and that as the SWA officially represents Scotch whisky producers, it can intervene on their behalf.

“This turned things around for us, and since then we have successfully appealed 12 trademarks,” said Lindesay Low, legal adviser to the SWA, adding that UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) also supported the appeals.

“When we first got involved with China, this was a new and unknown market for us. The British embassy and UKTI helped us to understand how things work there and who we needed to speak to about the issues that concerned us and our members.”

The news was revealed by the UK Intellectual Property Office yesterday (September 3).

Scotch whisky generates £4.3 billion ($7.1 billion) in export revenue for the UK and is sold in more than 200 markets worldwide.

But the availability of counterfeit products requires the SWA to take action. “Not surprisingly, there can be lots of imitation whiskies when sales of Scotch whisky are growing quickly as fraudsters want to cash in on the boom,” said Low.

Duke and UKTI have also helped the SWA secure geographical indication (GI) protection for Scotch whisky.

Low said: “We relied on the British Embassy and UKTI a lot for practical support and advice and guidance on legal matters with acquiring the GI registration.

“They have also given us a platform to discuss the issue more widely. I don’t think we would have achieved as much in China without their invaluable help.”

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