A court in the People’s Republic of China has revoked a trademark claim originally owned by Burberry PLC over its iconic tartan pattern. The world-famous “Haymarket Check” — a tartan pattern as seen on the bags modeled in the visual campaign by Emma Watson below – has been at the center of a contentious court case that was first filed in February 2012 by a bag and apparel production company based in the city of Foshan, located in Guangdong province.
The Foshan-based company has been producing bags that rip off the Haymarket Check, but it is only one straw in a giant haystack of counterfeiting companies that plague the Chinese haute couture market: the new court ruling means that just about any fashion and accessories production company will be free to churn out items that feature Burberry’s signature tartan without fear of retribution for infringing copyright laws. And as Burberry items have been coveted as a status symbol of wealth among the burgeoning middle-to-upper classes in China, the tartan risks a serious dilution as a status symbol if it can legally be reproduced and sold for much cheaper, albeit under a different brand name.
But despite rampant transaction of counterfeit goods in the black market, the demand for authentic haute couture products still persists — and continues to grow! — in mainland China. It’s a hugely important market for many prolific luxury fashion houses: Prada reported nearly 12% growth of sales in July this year, with Greater China contributing to 17.7% increase of all sales in the entire Asia Pacific region. Even Burberry saw sales that rose up to 20%, “accounting for 14% of retail and wholesale revenue.”
Burberry surely has no plans to sit on its laurels, looking forward instead to appealing the ruling. And while anyone will argue that fashion is derivative and organic, there is a difference between “inspired by” and “carbon copy of.” Should Burberry worry about a possible drop in sales? What do luxury labels have to do to protect their signature looks if even the law won’t protect it?