Luxury shoemaker Manolo Blahnik wins 22-year-long trademark battle in China


A 2014 file photo shows shoes designed by Manolo Blahnik on display during New York Fashion Week. Photo: Reuters

Manolo Blahnik, the shoe brand made famous by its celebrity fans and regular appearances in television drama Sex & The City, said on Tuesday (July 19) it has won a legal battle in China to use its own name, paving the way for the brand's expansion across the country.

The company, named after its Spanish founder, said in a statement that the judgement was handed down by the Supreme People’s Court of China last month, marking the culmination of a long-running legal battle.

Manolo Blahnik has taken numerous actions against Chinese businessman Fang Yuzhou since 2000 to dispute the validity of trademarks Fang has filed related to the "Manolo Blahnik" name.

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"This is a meaningful victory for my uncle, our family and our team and I want to express gratitude to the Supreme People's Court of China for its thorough and careful consideration of our long-standing case," chief executive Kristina Blahnik, the niece of founder Manolo Blahnik, said.

Reuters was unable to reach Fang for comment.

While the Manolo Blahnik brand has been well-known internationally since the 1970s, China has different intellectual property (IP) restrictions compared to countries such as the US, which require companies to prove prior use or intent to use a trademark before it can be registered.

China is a "first to file” jurisdiction, which meant Fang's claim to the name as the first person to trademark it in the China market in 1999 was long found to be stronger under Chinese law.

Things have shifted somewhat in recent years, however, with 2019 amendments to China's IP laws taking aim at so-called "bad faith" filings. This has led to some high profile wins for international brands in recent years.

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In 2020, for example, China's Qiaodan Sports was blocked from using the silhouette of basketball star Michael Jordan as its logo, though it continues to be able to use its trademarked romanisation of the Chinese version of Jordan's name (Qiaodan).

Manolo Blahnik, which has only been available to consumers in China via third-party e-commerce platforms such as Farfetch until now, said it plans to expand its business into mainland China in the near future, though it did not disclose specific plans for market expansion. – Reuters

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