Retail in Asia


Manolo Blahnik declares victory in trademark dispute in China

In a prominent trademark issue in China, Manolo Blahnik has declared a significant victory after a battle that lasted for more than two decades. The London-based company succeeded earlier this month in its efforts to invalidate a Chinese trademark registration that included the term “Manolo Blahnik,” which has prevented the Spanish designer from achieving a significant growth under his own name in mainland China since 2000.

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“We are truly humbled and grateful for the support we have received in China and internationally, both from within the fashion industry and beyond. This generous assistance has been a significant contributing factor to this successful result,” said Manolo Blahnik, brand founder and creative director.

In the years to come, this case will have a huge impact on the Manolo Blahnik brand as well as the larger China luxury industry, setting a critical precedent that could benefit global businesses throughout the price spectrum.

The circumstances surrounding the Manolo Blahnik case highlight the challenges that businesses have long had to overcome in order to register and safeguard their trademarks in mainland China. The issue began back in 1999, when only a small number of large international luxury brands had significant retail presence in mainland China and customer knowledge of these brands was much lower than it is now.

“During the course of the case, the China luxury market grew exponentially, with greatly increased recognition of international luxury brands amongst the Chinese consumer. The importance of the luxury market to the wider economy in China has also grown and, with it, the Chinese consumer’s expectation of authenticity within luxury brands in the Chinese market, ”said Kristina Blahnik, CEO of Manolo Blahnik.

The dispute began with a trademark application for the name “Manolo & Blahnik” encompassing footwear that was submitted in January 1999 and later approved and published by the China Trade Mark Office (CTMO). Shortly after, Manolo Blahnik started a costly and difficult legal battle by filing an opposition to the CTMO.

The difficulties the brand had over the following two decades serve as an example of both how far China’s luxury market has come and how far it still needs to go in order to preserve global brand IP. Manolo Blahnik’s extensive operations in the UK since the 1970s and other markets like the United States, Hong Kong, Japan, and Western Europe throughout the 1980s and up to 1999 did not include a foothold in the mainland China market prior to the offending trademark being filed. This has proven to be a significant obstacle for the brand throughout the dispute.

The first setback occurred in August 2001 when Manolo Blahnik’s challenge was rejected by the CTMO on the grounds that the evidence provided did not establish the brand’s reputation in mainland China prior to the filing date for the pirate IP. The brand attempted to invalidate the unlawful mark on multiple occasions over the years before finally succeeding in December 2020 when the Supreme People’s Court granted a right to appeal.

The Supreme Court gave a final ruling affirming the invalidation based on Manolo Blahnik’s name rights five months after the retrial hearing in January 2022.

Aside from the obvious advantages for the Manolo Blahnik brand and the designer in question, the case may signal a turning point in mainland Chinese trademark enforcement and accountability, paving the way for other companies dealing with similar IP piracy to reclaim their brands and permanently banish copycats. This has long been an issue for international luxury firms hoping to enter the China market in recent years, making them vulnerable to tenacious imitators or trademark squatters.

“We think the outcome in this matter is a strong precedent that should give global luxury brands confidence that their IP rights will be respected in the Chinese market. This, in turn, will allow more luxury brands to meet the demand of ever more discerning Chinese consumers,” said Kristina Blahnik.

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Claiming total ownership of its trademark in mainland China is a huge accomplishment that opens the door for the designer to ultimately grow in the market. “We are starting to explore our options and are excited about reaching out to a new customer base there as soon as possible,” said Blahnik.