FIGHTING COUNTERFEITS: A MAJOR SUCCESS FOR COGNAC IN CHINA
The Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac (BNIC) is highly committed to fighting against counterfeiting to protect the Cognac Geographical Indication (GI) worldwide. It has just won a major victory with an unprecedented court decision in China in a counterfeit case on September 2, 2021. Other recent legal victories have established this protection around the world.
For the first time last September, a Chinese court recognized that the import and sale of fake products infringed the collective “Cognac” brand, which has been a protected trademark in China since June 2020. Counterfeiting Cognac in this territory is, therefore, a violation of Chinese law. “This decision is the result of several years of work and cooperation between the BNIC and the Chinese authorities. The registration of the Cognac GI in 2009, followed by the collective brand in 2020, and finally, administrative and judicial decisions in 2021 on this key market, have been essential steps for the Cognac sector,” states Amandine Duthilleul, head of the Cognac GI Protection Department of the BNIC.
On September 2, 2021, the Chengdu Court ruled in favor of the BNIC in a counterfeit case. This decision follows the seizure and destruction of more than 10,000 bottles of fake Cognac by customs in Chengdu in 2019. Identifying these counterfeits was made possible thanks to the training provided by the BNIC teams to local customs teams.
Following this judgment, the manufacturers, importers, and distributors concerned were ordered to pay damages. These administrative and judicial decisions obtained thanks to action taken by the BNIC constitute important precedents on which the sector can rely in future cases.
Cognac, which is widely exported and enjoys a fine reputation throughout the world, has become a coveted product subject to counterfeiting. Protecting the Cognac GI is a priority for the BNIC, particularly in China, the second-largest export market for Cognac. The Chinese market experienced sustained growth of +87.8% from September 2020 to August 2021, compared to September 2019 to August 2020.
LEGAL VICTORIES THAT CONTRIBUTE TO THE GROWING RECOGNITION OF THE COGNAC GI IN EUROPE AND THROUGHOUT THE WORLD
The legal victories obtained by the BNIC have contributed to the essential and growing recognition of the Cognac GI in Europe and across the world. The name “Cognac” is subject to a high level of protection, reiterating that only wine spirits produced within the designated Cognac area and in strict compliance with the production conditions set out in specifications can claim this GI. “Recent cases of counterfeiting or misappropriation of reputation have resulted in favorable administrative and judicial decisions, thus creating precedents that confirm the high level of protection of our geographical indication and strengthening the legal basis for it,” says Amandine Duthilleul.
In Sub-Saharan Africa
Since June 2021, the Cognac GI has been officially registered and recognized in the 17 member countries of the African Intellectual Property Organization (AIPO).
Undertaken by the BNIC with the AIPO in 2018, this registration is a strategic step forward in sub-Saharan Africa, a geographical area with favorable economic prospects: a young population, booming urbanization, and an increasingly prominent e-commerce sector.
Recently, the BNIC took action in Greece against a manufacturer and exclusive distributor of a range of cigars dipped in Cognac, whose packaging and promotion used the image of the Cognac GI. On June 9, 2020, the Athens Court of Appeal confirmed the first instance judgment, considering that the use of the Cognac GI in the presentation and promotion of a third-party product constituted misappropriation of reputation, an unfair practice harming the GI’s reputation and the image of the product. This decision sets a precedent and represents a real victory in the protection of the Cognac GI in Greece and within the European Union.
On a completely different note, in February 2018, La Europa Mexico, a company known in Mexico for selling alcoholic beverages, registered the trademark “Festival Brandy, Cognac & Licores” to promote a festive event. The BNIC disputed the registration of this trademark with the Mexican Patent and Trademark Office (MPTO), which refused to register it on the grounds that such registration would infringe on the Cognac GI protected in Mexico by a bilateral agreement with the European Union. Following appeals by the opposing party, the Federal Circuit Court (FCC) issued its final decision on May 20, 2021, in favor of the BNIC, a decisive victory in terms of protecting Cognac in Mexico which will serve as a precedent against future infringements.
PDO – GI: what’s the difference?
The notion of Geographical Indication (GI) encompasses the notion of Protected Designation of Origin (PDO or AOC in French). The concept of GI is used at the European and international level to designate products that have a precise geographical origin and possess qualities, a reputation, or characteristics essentially derived from this place of origin. PDO usually applies at the national level.
ABOUT THE BNIC APPELLATION PROTECTION DEPARTMENT
Within the Cognac GI protection department, the BNIC works on and implements numerous measures to preserve the Cognac GI, the collective heritage of the sector. Its missions include recognizing and registering the Cognac GI throughout the world and implementing measures to ensure the highest possible level of protection in bilateral agreements between the European Union and other countries. The experts of this department also ensure the distinctiveness of the Cognac GI, the protection of its reputation, and its identity. The training of administrations and inspection agencies in various markets is also an essential prerequisite to the implementation of protection. To carry out its missions, the BNIC relies on a large national, European, and international network, including lawyers, influential organizations, intellectual property offices, administrations and inspection agencies, embassies, and copyright holders.