Hermes trademark battle 'is not over yet'

Shanghai Daily, March 5, 2012

Hermes' 15-year battle to secure the trademark rights to its Chinese name "is not over yet," according to the president of the French luxury house in China.

Last week China's Trademark Appeal Board was said to have rejected Hermes' bid to stop a Chinese company from using an identical sounding name to that of the Paris-based purveyor of silk scarves: Ai Ma Shi.

In 1995, Dafeng Garment Factory, a menswear company based in Guangdong Province, registered the trademark which uses slightly different characters but has the same pinyin spelling as Hermes' China name.

Speaking at a luxury brands forum in Shanghai yesterday, Leo Lui, the head of Hermes' China business, said: "The case has not been resolved yet. We don't know the outcome."

There is "no way" the 175-year-old Birkin bag maker would ever consider changing its Chinese name, Lui said. "This only affects one product category -- apparel. All the others are registered. There are always trademark issues in China," he added.

Hermes registered its French name in 1977 but never recorded a Chinese version. It has been locked in a dispute over the trademark since first appealing to the board in 1997, arguing the Guangdong firm had used "deceptive means" to register the similar-sounding name.

The Guangdong company's trademark registration was approved in 2001, but in 2009, Hermes again appealed to the board, saying its Chinese name was already famous around the world and demanding the disputed trademark be canceled. Its application was rejected for a second time last May.

Trademarks have become a hot issue on the Chinese mainland recently, after Apple was forced into a court battle over the rights to use the name iPad, claimed by another technology company, Proview, and basketball star Michael Jordan sued Chinese sportswear manufacturer Qiaodan.

In a separate address at a business school in Pudong, Lui said Hermes would consider launching an e-commerce site in China on a limited basis, citing the prevalence of counterfeit goods being touted online and the difficulty of replicating a luxury brand buying experience on a website.

"Chinese consumers like to touch products ... This is something that cannot be replicated online," said Lui.