Italian Chocolate Firm Ferrero Wins Court Battle Against China Fakes

According to the South China Morning Post of 9th April 2008, A five-year-old Sino-Italian chocolate war has ended, with the mainland's highest court ordering a Chinese manufacturer to stop producing nutty knock-offs of italian giant confectioner Ferrero's signature gold-wrapped chocolates.

The Supreme People's Court also ordered manufacturer Montresor to pay "symbolic" damages of 500,000 yuan(HK$557,104) for making fake Ferrero Rocher chocolates.

Victory was sweet for the Turin-based chocolatier, which said the ruling was important for all Italian firms because copies of "Made in Italy" products were widespread.

"It is already hard for Italian companies, and foreign ones in general, to get into China, overcome resistance put up against foreign produts, build up a commercial network and invest in the country, only to be faced with a strong and invisible enemy such as the counterfeiting industries ," the firm said.

Ferrero Rocher chocolates are a popular gift for mainlanders, especially during the Lunar New Year, and almsot ubiquitous in Hong Kong.

The confectioner said it had spent more than US$1 million battling counterfeiters but would look at further investment on the mainland.

The ruling was applauded as a landmark victory by upmarket brands combating illegal Chinese-made clones, but legal experts said similar judgments in the past had proved hard to enforce.

There are at least 35 chocolate products that look like Ferrero Rocher in mainland supermarkets, according to mainland media reports.

Ferrero began legal action against Montresor and its virtually identical "Tresor Dore" chocolates in 2003, as it was the only imitator judged dangerous enough to take a real bite out of Ferrero's market share.

Montresor registered its Chinese trademark, "Jinsha", an unofficial but popular translation for the Italian chocolates, in the early 1990s. It registered "Tresor Dore" in 2003 for its cheap imitations, which were priced at one-third of the genuine product.

Yet Montresor was named a national prestigious brand and has exported throughout Southeast Asia since 2000.

Jason's comments:

(1)IP infringement lawsuits and other influencial commercial litigation in China may also be time-consunming or as long as the marathon race, this 5-year-long litigation case is just another live example. Please bear in mind that commercial litigation in China is not (much) shorter than Hong Kong or other common law countries.

(2)for international companies related (IP) litigation cases in China, a large porporation of battling fees shall also be prepared in advance, for this particular case, US$1 million is used up, while for the Danone/Wahaha (joint venture / IP disputes) case, US$2 million has been spent by Wahaha so far,...

(3)litigation for justice should continue forward, but fake products may also survive, the playing game of cats and mouses may still be widespread in the developing country of mainland China and other countries or regions with similar economic living standards.