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Sweet Victory: French Candymakers Win China Legal War


FILE - Two employees prepare 'calissons,' a traditional French candy, in Aix-en-Provence, southern France, Dec. 14, 2005.

Revenge is sweet for the makers of France's traditional "calisson" candies, who have won a months-long legal battle with a businessman who trademarked the product's name in China.

The lozenge-shaped sweets, made of a mixture of candied fruit and ground almonds topped with icing, are widely enjoyed in France's southern Aix-en-Provence region.

Their makers were none too pleased when Chinese entrepreneur Ye Chunlin spotted a sweet opportunity in 2015 to register the "Calisson d'Aix" name for use at home, as well as its Mandarin equivalent, "kalisong".

The trademark was set to be valid until 2026, sparking angst among Provence's sweetmakers who worried Ye's move could have barred them from entering the huge Chinese market.

But China's copyright office rejected Ye's claim to the brand name in a decision seen by AFP on Wednesday, which said his request to use the label "could confuse consumers on the origin of the products".

Laure Pierrisnard, head of the union of calisson makers in Aix, hailed the news as "a real victory".

The union has fought the case for months in the name of 12 sweetmakers, accusing Ye of "opportunism."

It is not uncommon for Western brands to try to crack the Chinese market only to find that their name or trademark has been registered by a local company.

An enterprising Chinese businessman in 2007 registered the brand name "IPHONE" for use in leather products, to the great displeasure of Apple, which lost a court case against him.

The courts similarly backed a Chinese company that wanted to use the name of sneaker brand New Balance.

Ye, who is from the eastern province of Zhejiang, did not respond to the French sweetmakers' objections to Chinese authorities.

But he insisted in late 2016 that he acted in good faith, telling AFP he was "a salesman who does business within the rules."

As far as French producers are aware, calissons have never rolled off a factory line in China.

Some makers, dreaming of the international success enjoyed by their rival the macaron, are seeking to expand abroad, including to the enticing Chinese market.

The Roy Rene chain - owned by Olivier Baussan, the entrepreneur behind Province's best known brand internationally, L'Occitane cosmetics -- has stores in Miami and Canada, and is eyeing Dubai.

The company says it has been contacted by several investors over the course of the Chinese court case seeking to bring the sweets to China.

The affair has also re-energized makers of the dainty candies in their bid for special European status as a product that comes specifically from Provence.

Beijing has already recognized the status of 10 such European foods, including France's Comte and Roquefort cheeses and Italy's Parma ham, as well as 45 different wines from Bordeaux.

Aix-en-Provence produces about 800 tons of calissons every year.

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