Burberry has lost a crucial ruling on its signature tan, black and red plaid in China

Expect to see a lot more bags like these in China (the real Burberry is on the right).
Expect to see a lot more bags like these in China (the real Burberry is on the right).
Image: Reuters/Jo Yong-Hak
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This article has been corrected.

Burberry could lose exclusive rights to its iconic tan, black and red tartan known as the “Haymarket Check” in China, after the country’s national trademark office revoked the company’s copyright of the design last week.

The decision is the latest and most momentous in a long-running legal battle between Burberry and Polo Santa Roberta, a Chinese bag and apparel maker from Foshan which has also faced off against Burberry in Hong Kong and Taiwan courts for its look-alike bags. Burberry’s sales in China have been more buoyant this year than other, higher-priced luxury goods makers like Louis Vuitton, in part because the brand is still a novelty there. An influx of Haymarket Check-patterned goods, which seems likely after the recent court decision, might make that company seem a lot less novel.

The decision, from the Trademark Office of the State Administration for Industry & Commerce of the People’s Republic, came because Burberry had not used the “Haymarket” pattern in three years in China, lawyers for Polo Santa Roberta said in a press conference (link in Chinese) last week. By maintaining exclusive use of the pattern, Burberry was monopolizing part of Scotland’s cultural heritage, lawyer Tang Xiangyang explained during the press conference. Polo Santa Roberta is seeking $82 million in damages from Burberry as well.

The Scottish Register of Tartans, incidentally, refers to the pattern in question as “Burberry,” and says “it has become so much part of the Burberry image that it has been trademarked and can now be regarded as a Corporate tartan.”

In a statement, Burberry said it still controls the pattern, pending an appeal, and would fight the decision.

Burberry is appealing against a recent decision by the China Trade Mark Office in relation to the Burberry Check trademark. We are confident that our appeal will be successful. The Burberry Check remains a registered trade mark exclusively owned by Burberry and no other parties can use the mark without Burberry’s proper authorisation.

The company promised to use the “strongest possible action” against companies who use its trade markets “unlawfully. Burberry is appealing the case to China’s Trade Mark Review and Adjudication Board.

Correction: An earlier version of this article said that Burberry had already lost rights to the design. The company clarified to us that according to Chinese law, if it files an appeal in time it will retain the rights while the appeal is being adjudicated.