May 6, 2019 / 7:07 AM / 21 days ago

Australia's Treasury Wines wins case against 'copycat' for imitating brand in China

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia’s Treasury Wine Estates Ltd, the world’s largest standalone winemaker, said on Monday it had won a lawsuit against a “copycat” it had accused of imitating its prestigious Penfolds brand in China.

Bottles of Penfolds Grange wine and other varieties, made by Australian wine maker Penfolds and owned by Australia's Treasury Wine Estates, sit on shelves for sale at a winery located in the Hunter Valley, north of Sydney, Australia, February 14, 2018. REUTERS/David Gray

China is Australia’s largest wine export market, and although shipment growth has stalled in recent months, a reputation for quality has supported years of soaring sales.

Penfolds wines and, especially, the ultra-high-end Grange vintages, are popular and profitable, and are sold under the brand name “Ben Fu” in China. Treasury sued in February to restrain Australian company Rush Rich from using those names.

It said on Friday that Australia’s Federal Court ordered Rush Rich to cease and pay just over A$375,000 ($262,000) in compensation.

“This positive outcome affirms TWE’s leadership in protecting it’s IP rights against copycat and counterfeit operators,” Treasury said, referring to itself by its stockmarket code, in an emailed statement.

“The company continues to invest strongly in this area through a dedicated brand protection team ... and works closely with local authorities in Australia and China and partners to enforce against bad faith operators,” the company said.

Court filings show Rush Rich was also ordered to pay Treasury’s legal costs.

Reuters was unable to immediately find a publicly-available telephone number for a representative of Rush Rich, which does not have an Australian website.

Corporate filings show Rush Rich is based in Adelaide. The Adelaide Advertiser newspaper has previously quoted Rush Rich operator Vincent Zhao denying the firm copied Treasury.

“We reject, in the strongest terms, Treasury Wine Estate’s assertion that we have infringed any trademark held by Treasury Wine Estates and will contest this vigorously,” the paper quoted Zhao as saying a year ago.

“Our product range does not in any way resemble the Penfolds’ range,” he said.

Images of Rush Rich bottles on wine-selling websites show label designs and product names similar to Penfolds’.

Australian and New Zealand suppliers of goods from wine and lamb to honey have lately been stepping up efforts to combat fakes, particularly in the lucrative Chinese market.

Treasury won a similar legal challenge in China over the right to use the “Ben Fu” trademark there in 2017.

($1 = 1.4310 Australian dollars)

Reporting by Tom Westbrook; Editing by Himani Sarkar

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