Korean Government Rejects ConAgra's Trademark Suit over Monfort Brand.
Attorneys for Monfort Korea Beef, Inc., a Korean beef distributor, announced today that the Korean Government has rejected ConAgra's attempt to cancel Monfort Korea Beef's trademark of the Monfort name in Korea.
The decision means that Monfort Korea Beef, a company affiliated with PT Prime Trading Corp., continues to own the trademark for Monfort brand beef in Korea. Last month ConAgra lost a similar suit in a California Federal Court.
Ron Oster, a Los Angeles attorney for Monfort Korea and PT Prime, said, "This is a first step in a number of legal proceeding in Korea, and we are encouraged by the outcome. Monfort Korea Beef is the legitimate owner of the Monfort trademark in Korea, and we are not surprised that the Korean court has honored that fact." Monfort Korea Beef registered the trademark in Korea in 1993, with the cooperation of Monfort USA, after selling more than $100 million of Monfort beef between 1991 and 1993.
Working together with Charles Monfort, the former president of Monfort USA and current owner of the Colorado Rockies baseball team, Monfort Korea spent the last decade establishing Monfort brand beef as the number one beef product in Korea. According to attorneys for Monfort Korea Beef and PT Prime, after Charles Monfort left Monfort USA at the end of 1998, new management at ConAgra attempted to appropriate the Korean beef market for itself, at the expense of its former business partners, Monfort Korea Beef and PT Prime. These attempts included ConAgra's efforts to cancel Monfort Korea's trademark in the case that has now been rejected by the Korean patent courts.
"It is sad what a mess ConAgra's new management has made in Korea," said James Kim, president of PT Prime. "They took everything that my brother Gap Kim, Charlie Monfort, and I had built over the years and destroyed it out of greed. Hopefully, as the rightful owners of the trademark, we can make Monfort right again."
The rejection of ConAgra's trademark cancellation case is yet another setback for ConAgra in Korea, which is the third largest market for U.S. beef. ConAgra's Monfort USA beef company has been suspended indefinitely by the Korean Government's from bidding on its purchases. The suspension is the result of the discovery earlier this year that USDA certificates had been changed from "Ungraded" to the more preferable and expensive "Choice" grade. According to a federal lawsuit filed by PT Prime, ConAgra personnel have systemically altered labels and certificates on numerous shipments of beef to Korea. The USDA is currently investigating these charges.
ConAgra had originally accused PT Prime of altering the certificates, however, this August, ConAgra was caught sending another mislabeled shipment of beef to the Korean government, a shipment sent after ConAgra's business relationship with PT Prime had ended.
The Korean beef market will potentially become even more lucrative after Korea becomes an "open market" in January 2001. In addition, this recent trademark ruling may have a far reaching impact on ConAgra's Monfort business beyond Korea. In court papers, ConAgra and Monfort U.S. admitted that they have pending applications for trademarks in at least 11 foreign countries, including Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, China, Hong Kong, Italy, Poland, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, and England.