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Moutai riles rivals with trademark as approval has lawyers crying foul

By Zhang Ye (Global Times)

08:16, March 14, 2013

The State Administration for Industry and Commerce (SAIC) recently approved Kweichou Moutai Co's application to trademark the phrase "national liquor," which lawyers said would spark a new round of complaints from other domestic liquor brands, the Beijing-based Securities Daily reported Wednesday.

An anonymous insider said in an interview with the newspaper that the company is allowed to use the "national liquor" trademark on its Chinese liquor products and the SAIC will release an announcement soon.

Neither the SAIC nor Moutai had officially replied to the Global Times' inquiries by press time.

Many domestic liquor producers, including the Sichuan-based alcohol firm Wuliangye Group, expressed their suspicions about the approval and said they would file lawsuits over the SAIC decision, according to the report.

Cao Zhicun, a partner at the Beijing-based Century Law Firm, told the Global Times Wednesday that the SAIC had not notified them of the reported approval. The lawyer submitted a petition opposing Moutai's application in July 2012, and by law the regulator should notify him about its decision before making a public announcement, Cao said.

Though it does not represent any liquor maker, Cao said his firm would file for the decision to be revoked, and even bring a lawsuit, if the news were true.

"We found this application to go against trademark regulations," said Cao, noting that applications for trademarks consisting of a combination of "national" and a commodity name should be rejected according to Chinese trademark law.

Moutai has already become the most influential liquor brand in China, and is likely to further block the development of other brands with the addition of the "national liquor" trademark, he said.

Five liquor brands, including Wuliangye, Jiannanchun and Langjiu, submitted a joint petition to the trademark office of the SAIC in September 2012, saying that if Moutai wins the trademark, it will create unfair competition and distribution of resources, given that "national liquor" suggests a meaning of "best-quality" and "national-level" liquor.

The company's trademark bid passed the SAIC's preliminary review on July 20, 2012 but logged 95 objections from all walks of life during the following three-month public review.

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