Iconic Burberry Plaid Trademark Under Fire in China

December 6, 2013, by Mandour & Associates, APC

Orange County – Famed high-end brand Burberry scrambled last week to appeal a decision made by China’s Intellectual Property Office to cancel protection of its iconic tartan plaid design.  The UK-based fashion house immediately challenged the loss of protection, which was handed down in one of its biggest Asian markets.  China alleged that Burberry had failed to make specific use of the Trademark for the three year statutory period and concluded that the protection of the design had expired.

Upon filing the appeal, the luxury company appeared unfazed, commenting, “We are confident that our appeal will be successful.”  Whether or not the appeal is granted, China’s decision to cancel the trademark is a big one.  The East Asian market is one of Burberry’s biggest, accounting for about one third of its overall revenue.

Beyond the importance of the Chinese market and the consumers it holds is the protection that the trademark has afforded against counterfeit Burberry items.  With a thriving black market, China’s luxury goods market has already suffered.  While some commentators have cited this as a reason why trademark protection of luxury brands is even more imperative, others have noted that in Burberry’s case, the effects of any loss of trademark protection might be lessened because there are already so many knock-offs available.

Burberry’s famed tartan design dates back to the 1920′s when it was first included as a lining in the company’s coats.  Known technically as the “Haymarket Check, ” the design is one of the most recognizable patterns in the fashion world and has been the subject of trademark protection in the United States and abroad for decades.  Interestingly, the Burberry logo was one of the first trademarks ever registered, filed back in 1901 in Great Britain.  The plaid design even appears on Scotland’s Official Registry of Tartans, which lists it as belonging specifically to Burberry as a “corporate tartan.”

The history and significance of the design is clearly not lost on Burberry executives, who, after filing the appeal in China noted, “The Burberry check remains a registered trademark exclusively owned by Burberry and no other parties can use the trademark without Burberry’s proper authorization… Burberry always takes the strongest possible action against those who use its trademarks unlawfully.”