Intercontinental Great Brands LLC (formerly known as Kraft Foods Holdings) (IGB) is the manufacturer of the popular “Ritz” crackers and the owner of the Ritz trade mark portfolio.
Earlier this month, IGB commenced court proceedings in China against two companies, Dongguan Changshunli Food Limited Company and Jiezhou Food Limited Company (Defendants), alleging infringement of the Ritz trade mark.
IGB argued that the Defendants had infringed trade marks (which are registered in China) by selling biscuits under the brand name “Rize”. IGB argued that the name, typeface, logo and packaging design were all very similar to the “Ritz” registered trade marks and that this caused confusion amongst customers.
IGB demanded that the Chinese companies ceased the manufacture and sale of biscuits under the “Rize” brand, which have been on the market since 2010, and paid compensation in the amount of 5 million yuan ($775,230).
The outcome of this trade mark dispute remains to be decided, but these are not the first trade mark infringement proceedings filed by IGB in China, and it is therefore clear that the company intends to vigorously defend its intellectual property portfolio in China.
There are a number of points to be take away from the RITZ/RIZE trade mark saga …
Identify all intellectual property. A number of ‘brand identifiers’ may be protectable as trade marks (including words, stylised words, logos, taglines, colours and shapes). Copyright may also be used to protect the artwork and designs on product packaging and registered and unregistered design rights may be used to protect the shape and design of product packaging.
Protect all intellectual property. Having identified all protectable intellectual property, the appropriate steps should be taken to secure those rights. In some cases, this will involve registration (e.g. trade marks, registered designs and (in some jurisdictions) copyright). In other cases, this will involve a contractual assignment (e.g. copyright, unregistered design rights, database rights, know how, trade secrets and confidential information). In addition, having identified all protectable intellectual property, the appropriate steps should be taken to secure those rights in all relevant territories (e.g. trade marks are territorial rights, so applications should be filed in all territories where trading is taking place).
Enforce intellectual property. Having invested in protection for intellectual property, infringement should not go unaddressed. It is important to respond to infringement in the first instance with a cease and desist letter (which in many cases will be sufficient to stop the infringement) and, if necessary, to escalate matters by seeking interim injunctions (where appropriate) and/or issuing proceedings. The vast majority of intellectual property disputes do not go on to full-blown litigation, but parties should be prepared to take initial steps to demonstrate to infringers that intellectual property infringement will not be tolerated.
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