HK ruling not S'pore firm's cup of tea

SINGAPORE - It's a row over three letters that appears to be more than just a storm in a teacup.

Luxury brand TWG Tea is appealing against a Hong Kong court's ruling that it infringed the trademark of rival supplier Tsit Wing - which also uses the TWG abbreviation.

The spat arose when Tsit Wing sued its Singapore-based rival in 2011, further claiming that TWG "passed off" its business as Tsit Wing's by using a sign containing the abbreviation in its restaurant in a Hong Kong mall.

Tsit Wing had sought to restrain TWG from using the abbreviation in Hong Kong and sought damages, which are due to be decided by a judge.

Currently, TWG has agreed not to expand its business in Hong Kong beyond the International Finance Centre Mall.

The Tsit Wing Group, founded as a family business, registered gross sales of HK$393 million (S$64 million) in 2011 - of which HK$111 million was from tea. It has used the letters TWG in its logo since 2006.

Meanwhile, The Wellness Group, incorporated here in 2001, has used its independently created TWG Tea logo since 2008. The firm has displayed it in tea salons, boutiques and on products, building "immense" goodwill in 42 countries. Its products are supplied to the food services industry, hotels and Singapore Airlines.

"We strongly believe in our rights to our name and mark," the company said.

Hong Kong judge John Saunders ruled last week that TWG Tea had infringed Tsit Wing's registered trademark and was also liable for the tort of passing off. A court session due on Monday for the judge to determine the reliefs to be awarded for the infringements was postponed to a future date.

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