Ben Fu fighters | TWE wins Penfolds trademark case in China

It’s been a newsworthy week for Treasury Wine Estates (TWE). Today, the Australia-based company announced it finally successfully registered the trademark Ben Fu / 奔富, the Chinese name of its wildly popular label Penfolds and the inspiration for many copycats. (See 30-plus examples here.)

TWE said the news comes after a decade of legal action due to the Ben Fu name being “hijacked by a trade mark squatter.”

“The squatter registered the BEN FU trade mark in 2009, however, this mark was successfully invalidated by TWE through the Chinese Courts on the grounds of non-use and bad faith in 2017 and 2019 respectively,” said this TWE statement.

“Further, the subsequent oppositions filed by this individual (and others) against TWE’s own trade mark application for BEN FU were also rejected in April 2020 by the Chinese Intellectual Property Office for seeking to rely on untenable grounds.”

The announcement comes on top of reports this week that TWE is mulling a spin-off of Penfolds, notable in light of distribution disruption caused by the ongoing coronavirus crisis.

“A Penfolds spin-off would give investors a chance to own shares of one of the world’s best-selling high-end drops without exposure to changes in the profitability of mid-range and lower-end products. Treasury also has the Wolf Blass, Lindeman’s and 19 Crimes labels,” reported Reuters.

The timeline for a spin-off of Penfolds, which accounts for just a tenth of volume but over 50 percent of value for TWE, according to CEO Michael Clarke via SCMP, would be end of calendar year 2021.

Australia has steadily risen over the past decade to become the leading bottled wine source for China, including the start of 2020, with Penfolds playing a crucial role. As I wrote in “Penfolds Nation,” TWE’s market share in China rivals or even surpasses that of nations such as Spain and Italy, and Penfolds is the most visible driver of that status. It’s no surprise that we’ve seen so many riffs of that brand.

Some distributors have grumbled over the years about Penfolds being bundled with other TWE brands, or even with lower-level Penfolds labels like Rawson’s Retreat, which have at times turned up at very low prices online and in shops.. One wonders about the fate of those brands here in China should this spin-off come to fruition.

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