NFTs, among other digital technologies, have affected economies globally. The wine industry isn’t an exception, altering how brands address trademark protection.
Wine has deep roots in Europe. Sales and GDP figures for 2022 and 2021 indicate Europe’s significance in the wine economy. The leading wine production and export countries are Italy, Spain, and France. The European Union contributes to 62% of world production, and its consumption represents 48% of the global figure.
NFTs are unique digital assets stored on the blockchain, verifying ownership and authenticity. In the wine industry, they can be linked with tangible items like bottles or barrels. They offer proof of authenticity, open new marketing avenues, introduce gamification to wine ownership, and present fresh investment opportunities.
After analysing the trademark registers of Croatia, France and the EUIPO, first for trademarks for wine in class 33 of the Nice classification and for digital goods authenticated by NFTs in class 9, the following observations have been made. In Croatia 809 national wine trademarks exist and no trademarks mixing NFT and wine have been detected. France is home to 71,000+ national wine trademarks, with a majority filed by French natives. There’s a rising trend in NFT trademarks related to wine in France. In the EU as a whole there are approximately 37,000 EU wine trademarks. A small number mix NFTs and wine, hinting at a niche yet emergent trend. Two applicants have emerged as most prolific, both French: MHCS and Chateau Petrus.
MHCS is a part of LVMH, the global luxury goods titan. MHCS dominates the luxury wine and spirits segment. Petrus is on the other side of the size with a 12-hectare vineyard, whereas some of MHCS’s brands are the largest champagne brands in the world. MHCS’s applications cover multiple champagne brands, while Petrus’ applications are directed at various visual aspects of their brand.
Two approaches to the issue are apparent. The Active approach involves proactively filing trademarks, considering the potential future utility of NFTs. It’s a costly and time-consuming procedure, but it offers initial peace of mind. The Passive approach is more of a “wait-and-see” approach, which weighs the current lack of relevant European case law and global nature of NFTs. It hedges on the existing trademark scope is sufficient.
The emergence of NFTs has introduced varied trademark protection strategies in the wine sector. The industry is split between early adopters and those on the fence. The definitive stance on this matter will likely evolve with time and emerging EU case-law. The future direction remains uncertain.
Lionel Parisot is a Croatian Attorney-at-Law and European Trademark and Design Attorney, advising clients on various IP matters. Lionel speaks English, French and Croatian and has been active in the field of IP since 2017.
Here is a presentation of the research project: