South African wine and food exporters have been alerted to the proliferation of so-called trademark squatters, who register the exporters’ trademarks without the companies’ knowledge.
The warning to exporters to protect their brands from such savvy schemes comes ahead of upcoming annual Pro Wine show in Shanghai, China from November 11 – 13 as wine and food producers worldwide, including many from South Africa, will showcase their products. Pro Wine is China’s leading international trade fair for wine and spirits and last year attracted about 700 exhibitors from 38 countries.
Donvay Wegierski, Director at Werksmans Attorneys, said South African wine or food producers needed to ensure their brands were protected because of China’s trademark laws, which in the past had proved costly for exporting companies.
“Trademarks are territory and class specific by nature meaning that if you are exporting your product to a territory outside of South Africa it is necessary to ensure that your trademark is also protected in that country,” Wegierski said.
The expert pointed out that trade mark registration in South Africa did not infer trade mark protection outside of South Africa. This is particularly important in a country such as China where statistics show that over 2,3 million trademark applications were filed in China in 2014 alone, Wegierski noted.
The expert said while a large portion are filed by International corporates many applications were also filed by local Chinese businessmen and entities who are brand savvy and were aptly referred to as trademark squatters. “Many enter China only to be met with the realisation that a third party has already registered the trade mark concerned,” said Wegierski.
The best practice for protection, according to the expert, is to identify primary markets and conduct trade mark availability searches for both core and new marks, apply for and register your trademark, monitor competitors and the market as well as using trademarks and preventing others from potentially cancelling mark for non-use as well as exporters to renew their trade mark.
Established in the early 1900s, Johannesburg-based Werksmans Attorneys is a leading corporate and commercial law firm serving multinationals, listed companies, financial institutions, entrepreneurs and government.