Manolo Blahnik Emerges Victorious in Decades-Long Trademark Dispute in China

One of the world’s most successful shoe designers, Manolo Blahnik, has recently won a trademark dispute in China concerning the right to use his name in the nation, thereby ending a costly 22-year-old legal battle.

China’s highest court, in a rare ruling recently, canceled a trademark incorporating Manolo Blahnik’s name and owned by Chinese businessman Fang Yuzhou. This ruling shall enable Blahnik, who started his business in 1971 in London and got his shoe brand made famous by its celebrity fans and regular appearances in HBO’s TV drama Sex and the City in the early 2000s, to sell his brand in the fastest-growing luxury market in the world for the first time.

The Chief Executive of Manolo Blahnik and the founder’s niece, Kristina Blahnik, said in a recent statement delivered that being unable to capture the Chinese market was a huge hole in the brand’s existence; so, when the brand got the call, genuine tears were shed.

In China, there is a ‘first-to-file’ Trademark System, due to which many foreign companies fall into the hands of ‘pirates’ who try to sell trademarks when such businesses or brands enter China. As per one lawyer familiar with such cases and lawsuits, even small start-up-based British designers often come across their names already registered as trademarks in China.

Intellectual Property (IP) theft and infringement have been a source of major tension between China and its trade partners, specifically the United States. In recent years, things have somewhat shifted in China due to the amendments implemented in the nation in November 2019 designed to strengthen the Trademark Legislation. Consequently, there have been some high-profile wins for international brands in Chinese courts lately.

In 2021, one of the world’s major sports footwear and apparel manufacturers based out of the United States, New Balance, won a Trademark Infringement lawsuit against two local companies for imitating its ‘N’ logo and received Rmb25mn in damages. The company is now among the largest compensations granted to international brands in trademark court disputes.

Former National Basketball Association superstar Michael Jordan could stop Qiaodan Sports, the Chinese sportswear manufacturer, from using his trademark in a 09-year trademark infringement lawsuit. Jordan argued by saying that Qiaodan, which is the literal Chinese translation of his name, had infringed upon his exclusive rights.

Other international luxury brands, including British luxury goods brand Dunhill and Italian luxury fashion house Zegna, have also emerged victorious in trademark infringement lawsuits in China.

Manolo Blahnik had multiple earlier appeals rejected in China as the brand could not prove its reputation and image in the nation before 2000. Also, the legal experts believed that Fang Yuzhou appeared to be actively using the trademark for a shoe label he owned shares in during that period.

As per Kristina Blahnik’s statement delivered, the company’s plans for expansion in the Chinese market are still in the initial stages; however, she hopes to begin selling directly in the nation by the second half of next year. She said that the brand wouldn’t be racing with a rocket into China but instead walking gently.

According to an IP lawyer at a law firm in China, the ruling in question shall enable Blahnik and its retailer partners to sell their products in China without fear of legal retaliation and fight counterfeits being sold in and exported from the nation.

The privately-owned shoemaker shall face heavy competition from luxurious brands such as Louis Vuitton.

As per the most recently filed accounts, Manolo Blahnik had sales of €42.3mn in 2020, which is 7% down from that of the previous year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While the brand has not directly sold its products in China, it has courted Chinese luxury consumers through stores in Hong Kong, Seoul, Tokyo, Singapore, and Taipei. For more visit:

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