Counterfeiting Wine in China: a disturbing scourge

counterfeiting wine in china

China is a country where counterfeiting is commonplace. Clothing, cosmetics, technological devices… China touches everything. The country is now attacking the wine market, which is causing increasing concern among French wine producers and exporters, who are now facing what the World Customs Organization calls a ” 21st century crime”.

Bordeaux wines are particularly affected. These wines are infallibly successful and are the subject of very realistic copies in China. It is common for lower quality wines to be presented as Bordeaux “grands crus”, using replacement labels that are intended to be similar to the original labels. It is also possible to see empty Bordeaux bottles, which are collected and filled with poor quality wines, or even vinegar and water! In May 2015, a report by the French Foreign Trade Advisors described these techniques as “the industrialization of counterfeiting.”

But how can we protect ourselves in the face of this rising scourge?

Firstly, registering a trademark in China is the first step to ensure protection of one’s intellectual property rights. Although Chinese law has been strengthened over the past decade to establish an increasingly comprehensive and stringent legal framework, Chinese legislation remains very complex. There is no clarity. Counterfeiters are fully aware of the shortcomings in China’s trademark law which leads to the unfortunate conclusion that the effectiveness of trademark protection, even if registered, is far from desirable: it is possible to protect a trademark on paper, but in reality, the process can offer questionable protection. Indeed, counterfeiters favour “similarity” over “identity”, because it then becomes more difficult to prosecute and punish their illegal acts.

Some palliatives have been introduced to compensate for the problems encountered in trademark law. ‘Appellations d’origines’, to identify the quality and origin of a designated product have been recognised. The Bordeaux registered ‘appelation d’origines’ exists, and provides a means of dealing with the difficulties mentioned above, as well as ensuring a more effective fight against the problem of counterfeits affecting Bordeaux wines. At the same time, the training of customs officers has also been strengthened: they are in charge of supervising and verifying goods entering and leaving a country. They thus play a crucial role in the fight against the scourge of counterfeiting.  An awareness campaign on counterfeiting has been set up, in particular by the National Institute of Industrial Property (INPI) in France, to limit the circulation of certain counterfeit goods.

But above all, in order to face this crucial problem, the role of the winegrower is essential. It is up to him to build and maintain an image of his brand and to raise awareness among his consumers so that they can recognize the product through bottles designed to be distinctive, and by the flavor and distinctive character of his wine.

It is also very important to monitor online: it is on the Internet that trademark counterfeiting is most prevalent. Indeed, there has been a considerable growth in wine sales on the Internet, particularly in the constantly evolving Chinese market. Of the top 5 wine shops in China, 2 are online shops. It is therefore essential to monitor the Chinese wine market online. Many scandals have emerged, particularly concerning the online retail giant Alibaba. Some employees have been accused of setting up false fronts to deceive buyers between 2009 and 2010.

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