Chinese companies fined millions for counterfeiting Château

Château Lafite Rothschild is a name that lovers of fine wine will have heard of. The winery’s name includes the trademark – Lafite – and the entire name of the Château Lafite Rothschild winery belongs to one of the richest families in the world. And although the trademarks are protected in China, the company has had to fight infringers in court.

Château Lafite Rothschild began selling Lafite wines in China in the early 1990s. The owner of the company registered both trademarks in China in 1997 – “LAFITE” (register no. 1122916) and “CHATEAU LAFITE ROTHSCHILD” (register no. 1122917), both in class 33.

Over the years, Lafite wines have become very popular beyond the Great Wall. And this is also thanks to successful product placement. In the 5th part of the film Young and Dangerous (1998), Lafite wine is presented as a very luxurious product. One of the characters does not hide his conscience when he receives a bill for HKD 83,000 (more than USD 10,000). All thanks to four bottles of ’82 Lafite.

Klatki z kadru filmowego - young and dangerous
A scene from the movie “Young and Dangerous 5”. Photo source:

Unnecessary risk of losing brand rights in China

Let us return for a moment to the trademark registration itself. From today’s perspective, it can be said that it was very late in the day, as it was after we had already started doing business in China. At that time, it was not such a problem because awareness of IPR protection was not yet high. As a result, the risk of losing trademark rights was not great. The market has changed a lot over the years. Today, applications need to be filed much earlier, even before business plans are disclosed. Otherwise, unfortunately, the risk of losing control of the trademark becomes high (see article on FIFA trademarks).

Trademark registration certificate a tool in court battle

Counterfeit wines soon appeared on the market. They were labelled with the brand 拉菲庄园 – pronounced lā fēi zhuāngyuán (Château Lafite).

Butelki wina - podrabianie znaków towarowych
The appearance of the fake LAFITE wine (left) vs. the original (right). Image source:

It is estimated that the production cost of a counterfeit LAFITE is RMB 10, or about US$1.4. Given that retail prices were as high as RMB 1,000 (about US$140), the profit on sales was enormous. It is clear that the infringers knew full well that when consumers saw the name LAFITE, their thoughts would flee to a French vineyard in the Medoc region.

The producer of the original liqueurs had no choice but to take the matter to court. The company filed a lawsuit against seven Chinese companies, including Nanjing Lafite Estate Wine Co., Ltd. (南京拉菲庄园酒业有限公司), seeking damages totalling RMB 100 million (approximately US$ 14 million). The plaintiff alleged several trademark infringements in the lawsuit.

One can only assume that the case was not an easy one to resolve. If only because the 拉菲 trademark was only registered by Château in 2007. That is, a year later than a local wine producer used the phrase in its name. This was Nanjing Lafite Estate Wine Co., Ltd. in its name (南京拉菲庄园酒业有限公司).

Outcome of the legal dispute

The first instance case came to an end in June 2021. The Jiangsu Provincial High Court issued a judgment ordering Nanjing Lafite Estate Wine Co., Ltd. and six others to compensate Château Lafite Rothschild a total of RMB 79.2 million (approximately US$11 million).

On 3 November 2022, after hearing an appeal, the judgment was upheld and made final. The decision to impose millions in fines on Chinese companies counterfeiting Château became final.


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