Paris-based luxury house, Hermès, has been involved in a legal dispute over the trademark of its name in Chinese dating back to 1997, and as of today has lost. Apparently, while Hermès has been using their namesake trademark in China since 1977, did not register for its Chinese name trademark until later. The legal issues initially arose in 1997 when Hermes unsuccessfully appealed to the Chinese trademark board, arguing that Guangdong Province-based menswear maker, Dafeng Garment Factory’s, registered trademark was too similar to Hermès’ and could mislead Chinese buyers.
The French company reportedly appealed to the board again in 2009, stating that given its worldwide recognition, it should be allowed to prevent others from using a similar trademark, but was again denied. The trademark board said it had approved Dafeng Garment Factory’s trademark under normal legal procedures.
The most recent news is that despite its efforts to have the board’s decision overturned, the court ruled that Hermes is not necessarily a well-known brand in mainland China and that it cannot be proven that Dafeng’s trademark was obtained by “deceptive means.”
The ongoing legal battle seems especially relevant given the buying power of the Chinese and their love of luxury brands. Hermès, which opened its own Chinese bespoke brand, Shang Xia, in Shanghai in 2012, has plans to expand to Beijing and possibly Paris. The result is also interesting as it has been widely held that the Hermès Birkin bag is so iconic that it has acquired secondary meaning and as such, the bag itself has become a famous trademark (via trade dress protection).