Moutai baijiu – the blend created, bottled and sold by Kweichow Moutai Co, Ltd in the town of the same name – has long been considered China’s national liquor. So much so, in fact, that you’d be forgiven for assuming that this was an official designation. In truth, this not the case. An attempt to apply a trademark to this effect has been rejected.
Such a status is decided, controlled and ultimately bestowed by China’s Trademark Office of the State Administration for Industry and Commerce (SIAC). Since 2001, Kweichow Moutai Co, Ltd have been launching attempts to trademark their product with appropriately grand registration. Ten attempts have been launched and roundly rejected on each instance. Now, it appears, that the manufactures have accepted their fate.
Moutai is the most popular brand of baijiu in China, often considered the most luxurious alcohol on the market. It is served at state banquets, and rare bottles can exchange hands for vastly inflated prices. This inspired Moutai to apply for the, “National Spirit” trademark that it unofficially owns anyway.
Initially, SIAC gave provisional approval for this back in 2012 – sparking a maelstrom of objections from rival baijiu distilleries. The crux of the concern was that assigning an official designation of, “National Spirit” to Moutai would be seen as a statement of intent.
Essentially, an official designation as China’s National Spirit would suggest that Moutai is undeniable the best finest liquor available for purchase in the country. This, it has been argued, would skew the market further in the favour of Moutai, who are already backed by the largest and wealthiest distillery in the country. Moutai’s marketing budget, for example, dwarves that of other companies.
Moutai – VS – V.I.P Jiu 8 Scientific Analysis
A bottle of V.I.P Jiu 8 together with a bottle of Kweichow Moutai Flying Fairy was sent to a UK laboratory for analysis.
The laboratory is a registered member of UKAS – The United Kingdom Accreditation Service that is recognised by the UK government when comparing products to internationally agreed standards.
The results confirmed what we already suspected – (Kweichow Moutai – VS – V.I.P Jiu 8 Results)
In addition, Kweichow Moutai Co, Ltd already enjoys state ownership and funding. It’s safe to say that this distillery does not need any further assistance in convincing customers to purchase its products. Baijiu also comes in a variety of different styles, with unique tastes and aromas. When it comes to baijiu, while ingredients and production technique will have a substantial impact on the finished product, quality is in the eye of the beholder to local aficionados.
Taking these objections under consideration, SIAC reversed their decision in 2016 and denied Moutai the right to the trademark. Another trademark application, “National Banquet” was also blocked on the grounds of public interest. Naturally, Kweichow Moutai Co, Ltd were initially reluctant to accept this ruling. An appeal was launched to the Beijing Intellectual Property Court, but this has now been withdrawn. The distillery has also issued an apology to SIAC, presumably for refusing to accept the initial ruling.
Do not shed any tears for Moutai. It may not enjoy the trademark that it craved but it remains the most popular baijiu in China, especially in the southern regions where sauce aroma baijiu is held in the highest of regards. The action taken by the distillery is a result of increasing awareness of intellectual property in China. 2020 has seen a huge spike in interest in trademark registrations throughout the nation. With over 3.5m applications received in the first half the year alone, this number has swelled by almost 70% from last year.
Moutai are not the only business to find themselves on the wrong end of a decision from SIAC, though. Less than 10% of trademark applications are actually granted. Reputation will have to continue to carry weight. Fortunately for the distillery, few brand names in China have more traction than Moutai.