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Fashion IP rights in good hands



The fur auction house Saga Furs brand faces constant attempts at unauthorised exploitation on the Chinese market. In such situations, the company comes out on top thanks to a solid IP strategy. This is ensured by close a cooperation with Kolster.

Saga Furs offers its diverse range of services to fur producers, buyers and designers around the world. The company has operated on the Asian markets for over 30 years. As a traditional market for furs, China accounts for 50% of its sales.

To avoid unwelcome influences on the global Saga brand, the company has for years entrusted Kolster with its IP strategy. A competent IPR partner is also an invaluable help for the company through changes in business priorities and fluctuations in the global markets.

“Over the past few years, a growing trend on the fashion markets has been to combine different materials. The traditional long mink fur is becoming overshadowed by more fashionable attire that skilfully combine furs with other materials, such as cashmere or wool,” says Tia Matthews, Business Director for Fashion at Saga Furs.

According to Matthews, the new market situation poses a challenge to Finnish companies.

“This also affects our business model in Asia, as we increase cooperation with operators in the textile industry, for example. In addition, the trend is likely to have an impact on our company’s policy on IPR.”

In China, determination pays off

Kolster has handled IP matters for Saga Furs since 2011, and manages the Saga Furs product portfolio globally with strong expertise. IP experts familiar with local operating conditions are particularly needed on the Asian markets. 

“The Chinese market accounts for 90% of commissions received by Saga Furs. We continuously monitor new trademark applications in China and file oppositions against those that we feel approach too close to the main Saga brand,” says Jani Kaulo, Head of Asian Market at Kolster.

According to Kaulo, several oppositions are filed each month in China alone. The Saga Furs brand faces ruthless attempts at exploitation, and the company must be particularly vigilant in its IP affairs.

Most of the violating trademark applications have been filed inadvertently for brands that, when entered in the registry and into use, would undermine the distinctiveness and value of the main Saga brand. Some, however, have been filed in a clearly fraudulent attempt to exploit and damage the reputation of the Saga brand.

“In China, we have filed oppositions systematically for several years, and our determination has also paid off in the form of victories. In several of its decisions, the Chinese trademark office has stated that the Saga brand by Saga Furs has already achieved a certain degree of reputation in the Chinese fashion scene. This makes our work easier going forward,” Kaulo explains.

Tia Matthews nods in agreement.

“In the future, building and protecting our reputation will be increasingly important, as social responsibility and certified products are the cornerstones of our brand. This is also something we want to emphasise on the Chinese market,” Matthews says.

A transparent supply chain

The certification system employed by Saga Furs ensures the quality, ethicality and traceability of furs. The supply chain is transparent. Matthews believes that in the future, responsible production will be given more weight also in Asia.

“The upcoming generation is starting to be very ethically aware in these matters.”

For this reason, Saga Furs also wants to export Nordic know-how to China. Last April, Saga Furs along with the preeminent Chinese university in art and design in Beijing and Haining China Leather City introduced a study module taught in Haining with a focus on fur production technology.

Rapid growth in trademark applications

In addition to facing major reforms, the Chinese market is also experiencing strong growth. While the number of trademark applications a decade ago numbered in the hundreds of thousands, the figure for this year is approaching close to eight million.

“Trademark watch activities are extremely important for all brand holders. Saga Furs is a model example of a company that has worked systematically on the matter,” says Kaulo.

The work requires perseverance, as the process of opposing a single trademark application may take months or even years from its filing to the eventual decision. 

“Saga Furs uses our trademark watch service, which means that at Kolster, we monitor and review thousands of trademark applications each year that fall within the criteria defined as requiring surveillance. Of these new brands, we report the most critical ones that we feel require further action to Saga Furs,” Kaulo explains.

A trademark is worth defending

Communication between Saga Furs and Kolster takes places seamlessly mainly via email. Tia Matthews stresses that Saga Furs is a small company that operates globally. The company’s own Chinese team will also report of any alarming developments on the market. After this, Kolster takes over to proceed the matter further.

“It is extremely important that I can be confident in Kolster’s expertise. Although our cooperation takes place over email, the messages are clear and we are given a detailed recommended course of action in each situation,” says Matthews.

For Jani Kaulo, it is crucial that partner companies are able to focus fully on their own business. At the same time, the markets are conveyed the message that the company defends its trademark and reacts firmly to all infringements.

“This also has a preventative effect as further infringements are discouraged,” says Kaulo.

Saga Furs plans to strengthen its consumer brand on the Chinese market by means such as consumer communications.

“As our brand grows, so too does interest among counterfeiters and pirates. There will continue to be plenty of work for us on the Chinese market,” Kaulo sums up. 

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