Treasury launches legal action against Penfolds copycat ‘Rush Rich’

Treasury Wine Estates (TWE) has filed legal action against “copycat” producer Rush Rich in Australia over trademark infringements that it claims “exploit TWE’s iconic Penfolds brand”, as well as its Chinese transliteration of Ben Fu.

The case has been initiated by TWE to stop the infringement of its rights by Rush Rich, both in Australia and in China that, which is said could “significantly damage the reputation of TWE’s iconic brands” if action is not taken.

The brand in question is believed to be sourced and bottled through bulk wine suppliers and third party bottlers in South Australia, and then exported under labels that copy the look and feel of Penfolds wines, infringing TWE’s rights to the Penfolds and Ben Fu 奔富 trademarks.

In Chinese, Penfolds is transliterated as Ben Fu (奔富), which means ‘chasing prosperity’, however taken literally it can be translated back into English as ‘to rush’.

The lawsuit follows a landmark legal win in the Beijing High People’s Court in China in January 2017 that supported TWE’s lawful right to use and market the Ben Fu trademark in China. A final judgement handed down by the Beijing People’s High Court confirmed that a Chinese individual who had registered the Ben Fu trademark in 2009 had failed to demonstrate any genuine use of the trademark for wine or related business activities. The trademark was subsequently cancelled, allowing TWE to claim its right to ownership of the Ben Fu name, and freely use it across China.

“We have become aware of a number of copycat operators that are taking illegal and unfair advantage of the success of iconic brands such as Penfolds,” said TWE chief executive officer, Michael Clarke. “The infringing products and misleading claims these operators are making, and the association they falsely claim to have with our brands are unconscionable. We are putting on notice any bad faith operators in Australia – and anyone working with these operators – that this exploitation will not be tolerated.”

“There is no doubt that the Penfolds brand has played an instrumental role in the success Brand Australia is enjoying overseas. With this success comes the predatory behaviour of sophisticated copycat operators, which is bad for consumers, bad for Australian brand owners and bad for the Australian wine industry,” added Clarke. “What’s worse is that some of this copycat product is being made and labelled in Australia – we must work to put a stop to this.”

Clarke has accused the company of “liquidating” brand Australia, damaging its reputation overseas and compromising the success achieved by the industry.

“Over recent years, the Australian wine industry has enjoyed huge success in overseas markets. This success relies on the integrity and quality of our wine – a reputation that is put at risk by copycat wines being exported from Australia,” added Tony Battaglene, chief executive of the Winemakers’ Federation of Australia (WFA).

“Our strong regulatory system is pivotal to our export success. While we support individual brand owners protecting their IP rights through individual legal action, WFA will continue to work with the Australian Government to ensure we have the right regulatory measures in place to prevent copycat products jeopardising the continued export growth of Australian wines and its benefits to the broader Australian community.”

Penfolds has been in the China market for more than 25 years and has grown to be one of the most sought-after wine brands in China. Its popularity has encouraged imposters to attempt to trade off of its name, spurring Australia to send its first intellectual property rights counsellor to Beijing  to protect Australian companies’ trademarks in China in 2016.

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