Sat, Aug 02, 2003 - Page 10 News List

Montblanc wins landmark case

WORLDWIDE REPERCUSSIONS The recent ruling in favor of the German luxury-goods company demonstrates the nation's commitment to protecting IPR, some analysts say

By Bill Heaney  /  STAFF REPORTER

Intellectual property rights (IPR) experts yesterday welcomed a landmark win in the Panchiao District Court by German luxury-goods company Montblanc-Simplo GmbH, saying the case boosted Taiwan's reputation on the international stage.

According to the ruling reached last week, Montblanc can receive NT$5.2 million in legal costs that had been awarded in a lawsuit filed initially in the UK in 1999.

At that time, the German company alleged that Sanchung-based Sepia Products Inc (友工業) copied its trademark "snow cap" pen logo. Montblanc won the case, but was forced to bring the case to Taiwan last year when Sepia refused to pay up.

Last week the Taiwanese court applied Article 402 of the Civil Code, saying the UK costs could be applied here.

"Taiwan has enforced foreign court judgments before, but this is the first time costs have been awarded," said John Eastwood, a lawyer at Winkler Partners (博仲法律事務所) -- the firm that represented Montblanc -- and also co-chairman of the Intellectual Property Committee of the European Chamber of Commerce Taipei.

"This case is a jewel-setting for the Taiwan legal system, which is a very good one. It shows Taiwan will respect overseas judgments, and it is hugely beneficial to foreign rights holders," he said.

The ruling has opened the door for other foreign companies to enforce court awards they have received overseas, Eastwood said. And the process is two-way -- Courts in the UK have said they will accept awards against British companies from Taiwanese courts, although there are no cases currently pending.

"Courts in different countries do try to respect each other," Eastwood said. "It is through bilateral agreements or accepted practice that we have order in a world where business is done across borders. After this ruling, companies that have held back from launching suits here because they didn't have substantial assets in Taiwan will be encouraged to enforce their rights."

Taiwan's No. 2 man in charge of IPR also welcomed the ruling.

"After reading the complete judgment, I welcomed it as it means Taiwan has become a full member of the international community," said Jack Lu (盧文祥), deputy director-general of the Ministry of Economic Affairs' Intellectual Property Office (IPO) and a former judge who served in the Panchiao court a decade ago.

"On behalf of the IPO, I would like to say we are happy to see the judgment as it means we can protect not only local firms, but foreign firms as well," he said.

Lu noted that in 1996 the High Court in London recognized rulings of the Taiwan's Supreme Court, establishing the mutual protection of court decisions in both countries. The Panchiao court ruling reinforces the mutual relationship, Lu said.

"We regret that the defendant is Taiwanese, but the judgment is fair and we are pleased to see it," he said.

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