Big win for New Balance and all brands in China around January 5, 2021. Shoutout to @thefashionlaw and @Nicekicks for highlighting the decision and for the great pictures comparing the two brands above. As you can see by the pictures New Barlun is clearly doing exactly what the trademark laws are designed to protect. Other brands and companies cannot use your brands notoriety and success and create a confusingly similar version for them to profit. To me, this is blatantly what was going on here.
Further, New Balance has been battling and litigating against New Barlun on many levels for almost 20 years now. You might not have heard of them before but they are infamous for copying brands like New Balance in order to gain a following and create a name for them . In 2016 in a separate unfair competition case last year and received a favorable verdict and $1.53 million in damages for copying the “N” design. The blatant disregard for New Balance’s intellectual property and the court rulings means that the continued infringement is intentional and done on purpose. It was great to see the court agree and mention that in this ruling and issue a nice big verdict against them.
The $3.85 million verdict was one of the largest trademark infringement decisions in China for sneakers to date. The Chinese IP and trademark system are complex and very different from the United States. It can be difficult to even find these infringing companies, not to mention getting them in court. When you do, the damages have not been large enough to actually be a real deterrent in my opinion. The large ruling from January is a positive sign that the legal system in China is respecting trademarks and brands intellectual property more than they have before. It certainly doesn’t mean copycat brands wont exist, but it could help to deter some.
Another important and relevant thing to note from the long trademark battle between New Balance and New Barlun is that the Shanghai Huangpu District Court also found New Barlun’s distributor, Shanghai Lusha Fashion Co., guilty of infringement too. The distributor was ordered to pay only $15,000 in damages but they were deemed liable for infringing New Balance’s trademark and IP rights and it’s good to see this precedent. I would like to see the damages a little higher but it’s a start. This is an important decision for brands protecting their IP rights in China. It is also important to note because a similar case is on the dockets in California courts between Nike and La La Land related to manufacturers and distributors liability.
On that note, La La Land was due to submit their answer to the court yesterday on February 11 but was granted an extension until March 4 to respond. To date, they have still denied all the charges against them despite Nike having invoices that La La Land sent to Warren Lotas for millions from several releases. It will be interesting to see this defense strategy.