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Whisky body in action against Chinese spirits

THE Scotch Whisky Association has won a breakthrough with the Chinese authorities by getting a string of Scottish-sounding trademarks rejected.

SIMILAR: The "Glend" whisky from China aroused the SWA's suspicion.
SIMILAR: The "Glend" whisky from China aroused the SWA's suspicion.

The victories in the Far East come as the trade body has revealed a series of successful global legal actions aimed at protecting Scotland's national drink.

In China the SWA has succeeded in getting brands rejected for drinks using names including Glen Dare, Castle Glen and Glend.

In Mexico a ready-to-drink range called Filosofo that claimed to contain 100% Scotch whisky has been tackled.

Elsewhere an injunction has been won against Indian whisky Jackie Scot in a case dating back 24 years and action taken against a Belgian company that added flavourings to its whiskies.

Magnus Cormack, the SWA's legal affairs director, said: "Scotch Whisky is a 'geographical indication' meaning it can only be produced in Scotland.

"It's in the interests of Scotch whisky producers to stop companies overseas taking unfair advantage of the reputation of Scotch whisky.

"Not only does each fake deprive a Scotch whisky producer of a sale, but, as fakes are usually of poor quality, it will damage the reputation of Scotch whisky with consumers.

"We aim to ensure that when consumers buy Scotch whisky all over the world, they receive the genuine product."

The SWA is tasked with protecting and promoting Scotch whisky. Over the years this has seen it conduct a range of actions, from sending staff with tape recorders to stores, to the filing of complex documents with the European Commission.

The SWA's annual legal report for 2013 revealed the breakthrough in a long-running campaign to oppose the registration of trademarks in China that are suggestive of Scotland. It most commonly opposes the use of the word "glen" on the basis that it is a well-known Scottish word and is a common element in distillery names.

Around one quarter of distilleries feature "glen" in their name, as do an even larger number of blended Scotch whiskies.

SWA legal adviser Lindesay Low said: "Not surprisingly, those seeking to take advantage of the reputation of Scotch whisky frequently use the word 'glen' on their products to reinforce the illusion that they are Scotch whiskies and, with the growing popularity of Scotch whisky, we were faced with a raft of such applications in China."

Despite filing detailed dossiers of evidence, including lists of Scottish place names, distillery names and examples of "glen" Scotch whisky labels, the body has consistently had its objections dismissed by the Chinese Trade Mark Office.

The office said it was not sufficient evidence to show that "glen" is connected to Scotch Whisky.

But with the backing of the British Embassy in Beijing, the SWA held a meeting with Chinese authorities to demonstrate how other countries had opposed "glen" trade marks in non-whisky products.

The result is that eight "glen" trademarks have been rejected by the office in late 2013 and the early part of 2014, including for brands such as Glen Range, Glen Volis and Glenroyal.

The SWA is waiting for decisions in a number of other cases.

Of 108 trademark objections logged by the SWA last year, 16 were in China and 19 in India.

SWA chief executive David Frost said: "The association exists to protect and promote Scotch whisky.

"We could not promote Scotch whisky effectively without the benefit of a strongly protected category, embedded in European Union and national law, and without a world-wide enforcement effort."

Scotch whisky is protected by its definition in the national laws of a number of countries, including the Untied States, Singapore and Venezuela, through the concept of geographical indications contained in world trade agreements and in a number of free trade deals negotiated by the European Union, covering countries including Mexico, Peru and South Korea.

In Mexico, the SWA brought a case before the country's Intellectual Property Office claiming a breach of the law.

This came after analysis indicated that its Filosof product, which claimed to contain 100% Scotch whisky, was not Scotch whisky nor indeed whisky at all, even under the Mexican definition.

The company was fined and obliged to remove all reference to Scotch whisky and whisky from its labelling of the product.

After a complaint by a Czech consumer, authorities in that country analysed a "Scotch whisky" called The Old Distillerie, bottled by Belgian company Sodiko. It was found to contain added flavouring, as was another Sodiko whisky brand, MacCallister.

This prompted an agreement between the SWA and the company.

The SWA also secured a permanent injection in the Bombay High Court against the Indian company Sunnygold Wineries relating to an Indian whisky sold under the Jackie Scot brand.

The action was first started in 1989.

The SWA's legal efforts in future will be driven by Magnus Cormack who became its director of legal affairs at the start of this month when long-standing legal chief Glen Barclay retired.

Mr Cormack joined the SWA as a legal adviser in 1983.

Over the years, the SWA has authorised legal action against more than 1000 brands and nearly 3000 trademarks worldwide have been opposed.

At any one time, the SWA estimates that it is pursuing as many as 70 different legal actions across the world.

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