The protection from the Shanghai Intellectual Property Bureau gives the kiwifruit marketer boosted protection through strengthened legal and administrative powers. It puts it in the company of global giants like Disney and Ferrero Rocher.
It comes as Zespri works to fight a rearguard action against illegal plantings of the high-value SunGold kiwifruit in China, with estimates there is more than 2000ha in the ground there. Typical growing areas are estimated to be about 10ha an orchard.
Zespri’s greater China general manager Michael Jiang said being awarded the protection is a significant endorsement for Zespri, acknowledging its high profile among foreign brands in China and the company’s strong market share.
“The recognition also reflects the challenges Zespri is facing with counterfeiting in China, including with the unauthorised growing of our Zespri SunGold kiwifruit variety there and is another demonstration of the support we have received from Chinese authorities.”
The illegally in China are thought to have come from illicit plant imports from New Zealand.
A civil court case is continuing in the High Court at Auckland for millions in damages against an individual who allegedly sent SunGold G3 plants to China.
Those particular plants are estimated to cover 160ha and were discovered four years ago.
Zespri’s efforts in China to work with authorities to identify and prosecute owners of the illegal fruit make it the first fruit company to dispute such an instance on Chinese soil.
While the protection status was issued by the Shanghai government it has been circulated throughout China to other provinces and cities, requiring them to give priority to protecting the brands covered by the status.
Jiang said that is a key step to ensuring the protection becomes national.
The Chinese move marks tighter controls around counterfeited and trademark infringers.
New trademark laws came into effect in China on November 1 and include greater punishment for malicious and serious trademark infringements, with the maximum penalty almost doubled to US$712,000.
In 2018 a fruit company selling fake Dole, Zespri and Sunkist labels was sentenced for retailing over a million pieces of fruit exhibiting false labels for those companies. Of the 13 defendants, the highest penalty handed down was two years and eight months in jail.
In May 2018 120 trays of fake Zespri kiwifruit were intercepted by Chinese officials in the Xiamen province.
The World Trademark Review journal has noted that recently harsher penalties are being handed down by Chinese authorities for food fraud.
Between 2015 and 2017 cases involving infringements of intellectual property rights made up nearly 40% of all cases heard by Shanghai courts.
Illegally packaged fruit using counterfeit Zespri labelling has been an ongoing issue for Zespri but fruit grown illegally in-country has been a first for any company.
The boosted protection means Zespri will also be able to act on companies using the Zespri brand for products other than fresh fruit, something it was powerless to do before.
“Zespri is grateful to the Chinese government which has consistently worked to help Zespri protect its brand and IP,” Jiang said.