Wangzhihe Bean Curd—Finding Its Own Developing Path

By Doris Li , China IP,[Comprehensive Reports]

  The Wangzhihe bean curd brand is an “elder” member among existing time-honored brands of China. Apart from the Liubiju Pickle, which is 139 years older than Wangzhihe, only the pharmacy Tongrentang can be considered a “peer.”
  Legend has it that in 1669 A.D., during the eighth year reign of emperor Kangxi of Qing Dynasty, a scholar named Wang Zhihe traveled from Anhui to the capital for imperial examinations. He failed, and consequently was reluctant to go home. To earn a living he turned to the bean curd business, which he had learned in hometown.
  On a hot summer day, Wang cut unsold bean curd into small cubes, air-dried them, and put them in a jar, together with salt and other condiments, to prevent them from going bad.
  He didn’t think of the jarred bean curd until autumn. Upon opening the jar, he found that the fermented bean curd had already turned green and has a strong pungent odor. Thinking it a waste to throw it away, he tasted it and found it had an unexpectedly special flavor. Neighbors also praised him after tasting the new dish and his bean curd won him instant fame across the city.
  After that, Wang gave up his ambition of becoming an official and devoted himself to the bean curd business. His product found its way into the imperial kitchen towards the end of the Qing Dynasty and became a daily snack of Empress Dowager Tz'u-hsi, who termed it “Qing Fang” (“blue cube”) and the price soared. Sun Jiading, a Zhuangyuan of late Qing Dynasty, once wrote a set of couplets praising the delicacy.
  Once famous for its standing in the imperial court, Wangzhihe today is now famous for its standing in a foreign lawsuit. It was an “820-day journey of overseas litigation,” said Wang Jiahuai, General Manager of Beijing Wangzhihe Foodstuff Croup Co., Ltd. when asked by China IP about the matter.
  “Though we protected our reputation as a time-honored brand, we failed to take the necessary legal steps to protect our rights,” said Wangjiahuai. Before the Wangzhihe products entered Germany, we sold them in more than 20 countries and had the mark legally registered. Due to different strategies for overseas markets, the company entered Germany later than it did in other countries. “Considering our target consumer groups, we usually chose countries with a large Chinese community,” Wang explained.
  Despite its popularity in China, Wangzhihe was rarely familiar to judges or the average consumer in Germany. Therefore Wangzhihe’s lawyers had to submit evidence to prove it was a famous brand, and its logo was not simply, “a common portrait of Chinese an ancient soldier,” as claimed by OKAI, the supermarket that registered Wangzhihe’s logo in Germany.
  China maintained a consistent strategy with regards to intellectual property after joining the WTO. Similar with Chinese laws, Germany’s trademark laws stipulated that registered trademarks shall not infringe upon others’ IP rights. This similarity is primarily the reason behind Wangzhihe’s victory in the first and second instance rulings.
  This is not the only case of Wangzhihe’s active litigation. As early as last century, the company attracted wide attention for defending its rights at home. In the early 1990s, when Chinese courts were in the initial stages of establishing their IP tribunals, Wangzhihe initiated the first IP lawsuit in China.
  An enterprise affiliated with a school in the Shunyi of suburbs Beijing violated Wangzhihe’s trademark. “Considering it as an enterprise affiliated to a school, we just wanted to send warning. However, it didn’t display any willingness to stop, so we went to court. We had to litigate our way through three separate courts before we finally reconciled at the Supreme People’s Court. They should have been required to pay us several hundred thousand Yuan in damages, but we asked only 1 Yuan. We just wanted to let them know: You can make the same products and be an equal-footing competitor of us, but never infringe upon our IP rights.
  Regarding the development of time-honored brands, what Wang talked about most is that enterprises should design strategies according to their respective conditions instead of seeking a “one-size-fits-all” model.
  Every time-honored brand has its reason for survival. In the sweeping world economy, their owners should most consider how to propel themselves into the world market and turn a national brand into an international brand. But Wang also stressed that time-honored brands should not copy others blindly, but instead must explore their own paths for better development.
  Talking about turning time-honored brands into world-class Chinese brands, Wang said, “This is actually very hard, because most of our time-honored brands evolved from traditional manual-labor workshops. It took long-term strategies and outlook to transform them into a highly standardized and automated enterprise. Going global is impossible without development modes are established and targets are solved.”

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