After an extensive legal struggle, UK-based luxury brand Manolo Blahnik has triumphed in securing the right to use its name in China. This is a noteworthy achievement, as the brand had not operated in the country for over two decades due to a local businessman, Fang Yuzhou, successfully trademarking their name. Fang registered the “Manolo & Blahnik” trademark and appeared to sell shoes under the label. However, justice has finally been served, partly thanks to the popularity of Manolo’s signature stilettos among celebrity clients and their appearances on the TV show - Sex and the City.
Last week, following numerous unsuccessful appeals since 2000 to use its name in China, the Spanish company was granted a significant victory by China’s highest court. This critical milestone paves the way for the brand and its team to expand into one of the world’s largest consumer markets in the coming year. Kristina Blahnik, CEO of Manolo Blahnik and niece of Mr Blahnik, expressed her delight at the ruling, stating that it is a momentous occasion not only for the business but also on a personal level, as her uncle has been fighting for this outcome for more than two decades.
Kristina Blahnik emphasised the company’s cautious approach to the situation, stating they will take their time to consider their next steps carefully. Under Chinese trademark laws, Mr Fang’s claim to the name was initially deemed stronger than Manolo Blahnik’s due to its earlier filing. However, recent amendments to legislation have enabled international brands to challenge and overcome “bad faith” filings from local businesses in several high-profile cases.
Rieko Michishita, a partner at Bird & Bird, informed the BBC that Manolo Blahnik’s legal battle could serve as a precedent for brands to demonstrate “the bad faith of trademark squatters.” However, she also noted that some businesses might face difficulties, as not all cases are based on name rights, and certain firms do not have the same high reputation as Manolo Blahnik. Before this development, Chinese consumers could only access products from British-based brands through third-party online platforms and regional stores in Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, and South Korea.