Clone Wars: Will court ruling pave the way for more Chinese Vespa clones? | OPINION
As you may have seen already – Italian scooter giant, Piaggio lost a five-year legal battle against perceived Chinese Vespa ‘clones’ at a court ruling in Luxemburg last week. This court ruling effectively gives the green light to other companies looking for a proven shape to design into ‘their own’ cheap retro-styled scooter. Adding to an already over-saturated lookalike budget market.
Piaggio brought the case to the EU’s Intellectual Property Office, citing Chinese manufacturer, Zhejiang Zhongheng Industry were copying the iconic Vespa design with their catchily named, Znen Ves scooter. Piaggio claimed it copied their LX model’s familiar looks. Judges ruled that the Chinese machine had “Its own individual traits” and that “Due to numerous and significant differences, there is no risk of confusion among informed users.”
That’s all good then. After all, it’s true, informed users aren’t really likely to mistake a Zhongheng (above) for a ‘real’ Vespa but the uninformed possibly will. Or at least they’ll perceive all scooters are built like these budget machines. This court ruling will also allow Zhongheng (and other manufacturers) to use the traditional Vespa silhouette to bring more and more retro scooters with a familiar Italian look to the market. Although I have a feeling Piaggio won’t let this one lie and there are already plenty of other companies making Vespa lookalikes that are much more convincing than the Zhongheng. Perhaps they were thought to be an easier target for litigation?
EICMA Milan seizure
This new ruling could be interesting when it comes to next month’s EICMA show in Milan. Back in 2013 seven Chinese exhibitors had a total of 11 scooters seized by the Guardi di Finanza (financial law enforcement) on the opening day of the prestigious Italian show. The scooters were seized and a couple of stands were left empty because they’d breached Piaggio’s three-dimensional trademark for the design and shape of the Vespa. A ruling that now seems to have taken a backwards step.
A Piaggio spokesman at the time said “The Piaggio Group considers the initiative of the Guardia di Finanza to be of great significance in the defence of industrial property rights.” In a statement to the press, they continued: “As in every other country where Piaggio has taken specific action against counterfeits, the action of the Italian police is a further element for the protection of companies that compete lawfully on world markets.”
Does this new ruling give the green light for the Chinese to build more and more similarily shaped scooters, or is it inevitable that a step-thru scooter design will look like many other step-thru designs by sheer coincidence?
We’ll be at EICMA in November to keep an eye on things.
Vespa counterfeiting Supreme Court ruling
Piaggio may well have lost in Luxembourg but in 2017 the Italian Supreme Court ruled in favour of Piaggio/Vespa in a case relating to the production of items bearing a reproduction of a Vespa on t-shirts, keyrings etc. (even without using the brand name/logo) and whether they would infringe Piaggio’s trade marks held for the iconic brand and image.
The court ruled in favour of Piaggio and anybody caught in possession (for sale or distribution) of items bearing a Vespa can be punished with a fine of €20,000 and face two years in jail.
Record year for Vespa
It’s not all bad news for the iconic brand though. Around the world, Vespa sales grew by 16% in 2018 (beating the previous year’s sales record) with over 210,000 units sold.
Those figures won’t be harmed by over 47,000 readers of prestigious monthly motorcycle magazine, Motorrad voting the Vespa GTS as the “Motorcycle of the year” in the scooter class in Germany. The flagship Vespa model topped the sales charts there in 2018, beating BMW in their own back yard. Although the latest BMW R1250GS has knocked the Italians off the top spot this year.
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