Australia's Treasury Wines says sues 'copycat' for imitating brand in China

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia’s Treasury Wine Estates, the world’s largest standalone winemaker, on Friday said it launched legal action in the country’s Federal Court against a “copycat” it accused of imitating its prestigious Penfolds brand in China.

FILE PHOTO: Bottles of Penfolds Grange, made by Australian wine maker Penfolds and owned by Australia's Treasury Wine Estates, sit on a shelf for sale at a wine shop in central Sydney, Australia, August 4, 2014. REUTERS/David Gray/File photo

China is Australia’s largest wine export market, where a 60 percent surge in sales last year lifted Treasury to a record half-year profit for the six months to December 31.

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.

Melbourne-based Treasury last year won a legal challenge in China over its right to use “Ben Fu” as a trademark and said it launched its action against wine-seller Rush Rich, in a bid to protect its reputation.

“Of particular concern is the issue of copycat wine,” Treasury said in a statement.

“[It] is believed to be sourced and bottled through bulk wine suppliers...then exported under labels that copy the look and feel of Penfolds wines, infringing TWE’s rights to the Penfolds and Ben Fu trademarks.”

Australian corporate filings show Rush Rich is based in Adelaide.

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

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.

“Our strong regulatory system is pivotal to our export success,” Tony Battaglene, chief executive of the Winemakers’ Federation of Australia, is quoted as saying in Treasury’s emailed statement.

“This success relies on the integrity and quality of our wine – a reputation that is put at risk by copycat wines.”

Reporting by Tom Westbrook; Editing by Clarence Fernandez