The shape of water is taking on a new meaning in China, as the nation’s top court has ruled in favor of Christian Dior in a running trademark dispute. Following losses before lower trademark bodies in Beijing, the China’s Supreme People’s Court sided with the LVMH-owned fashion house, holding that the Chinese Trademark Office may have erred in denying the established brand protection for the water droplet-shaped bottle of its famous J’adore fragrance.
According to a statement from China’s Supreme People’s Court, "After a two-hour public hearing [on Thursday], the top court revoked the original rulings made by local courts in Beijing, which rejected the company's application to register the bottle design as a trademark."
Dior’s counsel had been clashing with the Chinese trademark bodies since its application for registration for its interestingly-shaped fragrance bottle was rejected in July 2015 by the China Trademark Office, which held that the bottle's shape and design did not meet "the standards of a trademark."
Appealing the decision to the Chinese Trademark Review and Adjudication Board, the Dior's legal team argued that the distinctive shape of its J’adore bottle – which was first introduced in 1999 and enjoys trademark protection with the World Intellectual Property Organization, as well as with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (where is has been protected by a trade dress registration since 2002) – should also be subject to China-specific protections.
Counsel for the Chinese Trademark Review and Adjudication Board disagreed, arguing that the bottle “should be regarded as a common container for liquors, and that it has ‘no obvious specificity.’”
On Thursday, Dior's local counsel Li Fengxian reiterated the brand's position that the J’adore "perfume has grown popular among consumers after it came into Chinese market in 1999. Many consumers could easily recognize it as one of Dior's perfumes through the bottle's appearance." As a result, "it should be qualified to be a trademark to get protection in line with Chinese laws."
In overturning the lower trademark bodies’ prior holdings, China’s Supreme People’s Court ordered the China Trademark Office to review Dior’s application again.
"The latest verdict is significant. It shows our country's equal protection on IP rights no matter where it is from," Cui Guobin, an IP associate professor with Tsinghua University, said after attending the hearing at the top court. Court ruling on bottle seen as "significant" for intellectual property protection, as "it will also be a guidebook for lower-level courts when they face similar circumstances in future case hearings," he said.