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Trademark Registration in China

Registering a trademark is a critical first step to protecting a brand. China is one of the world's largest markets, with a rapidly growing economy and a vast consumer base, making it an attractive destination for businesses seeking to expand globally. With the rise of cross-border e-commerce and globalization, trademark registration in China has become increasingly important.  


Failure to do so can lead to devastating consequences, including loss of revenue, reputational damage, and legal disputes. Understanding and implementing effective solutions against challenges such as trademark squatting is crucial for businesses operating in or entering the Chinese market. 


A company’s identity is one of its most valuable assets. Customers recognize and trust a brand’s reputation, which can significantly impact the success of the business. Protecting the integrity and exclusivity of a brand must be a constant priority for a company, especially in this current highly competitive market. 

Trademark Search and Registration

China only legally recognizes trademarks registered within its own jurisdiction, which is why foreign companies should consider trademark registration one of their top priorities. If the brand is well-established, it will most likely encounter trademark squatters, counterfeiters, or grey market suppliers. 


However, well-known trademarks enjoy some protection under Chinese law. This protection is the closest China comes to protecting unregistered trademarks. The circumstances under which such protection is afforded are limited, given that the standard for a trademark being considered well-known is exceedingly high. 


Companies that decide to operate in China without a registered trademark in the region can easily lose their infringement claims, irrespective of whether they legitimately sell goods in other countries under that brand or even if they manufacture in China to sell elsewhere. 


Ironically, companies can be sued for infringement by trademark squatters themselves. Trademark registration in China protects businesses from grey market suppliers and knock-off sellers online and enables the seizure of copycat goods by Chinese customs. 


Trademark registration  


International laws, including Chinese laws, grant legal protection to trademarks providing they comply with a few basic requirements: the mark must be distinctive; must not have previously been used by others in the same market; and must not describe the product, e.g. you cannot register ‘apple’ as a trademark for apples.  


Trademarks are territorial in nature and therefore must be registered in every country. To obtain protection in China, a company must register its brand with the China Trademark Office (CTMO) either by directly filing a domestic application or by filing an international extension through the Madrid System. 


Trademark search 


Before registering a brand in China, a company must check that it is available and has not been previously registered by another entity (known as a ‘bad-faith’ registration), or is too similar to any other registered trademark. This step saves resources on an application which will be rejected and could delay business operations in China. 


Trademark agents can conduct a search on a company’s behalf, but individuals can also do it themselves on the CTMO online database which records all trademarks applied for and registered in China.  The database is available in English and is free to use.  


If your trademark is in the database, it means that it was probably registered in ‘bad-faith’ and is now effectively owned in China by someone else.  

Can Woodburn help you?

At this point, if it is still during the three-month period between the bad-faith registration of your trademark being published in the Trademark Gazette and the trademark being granted, you can file an opposition with CTMO. 


If the trademark has already been registered, you may be able to have the registration invalidated by filing a case with the Trademark Review and Adjudication Board (TRAB). The chance of success will depend on the specifics of the case. 


It may be possible to buy the trademark through an online ‘supermarket’ or by negotiating directly with the trademark owner, or through an intermediary such as a lawyer or trademark agent. 


Registering the trademark in Chinese characters 


Companies operating in China should know that their trademark in Roman characters will not completely protect them against infringement. The same or similar trademark can be registered in Chinese characters by another business. This is also key to a business’ profitability and image in China. 


If others use your trademark in the local language, there are chances of losing customers and diminishing brand value due to the meaning, the pronunciation, or even the appearance of the Chinese characters. 


Trademark monitoring  


This practice can be crucial for a company’s reputation. Trademark monitoring is a proactive and systematic approach to prevent infringement, unauthorized usage, and dilution. When a company regularly monitors its trademarks, it can ensure the future of its brands and business. 


Brand Integrity 


Preserving brand integrity is one of the main goals of trademark monitoring. When done regularly, companies can identify products or services with similar brands filed by others, which could represent potential infringement or unauthorized use of brand elements, such as logos, names, slogans, or designs. 


This practice enables a company to take quick action against infringement, protect intellectual property rights and maintain control over brand identity. Effective monitoring guarantees that the brand's visual and verbal assets are not misused or diluted, safeguarding its distinctiveness and reputation. 


Registration of infringing trademark 


In China, anyone can file an opposition against a trademark before it becomes officially registered, during the opposition period. Monitoring early in the process if similar brands are being registered can save a company a lot of time and money, instead of filing a lawsuit after the infringement behavior happened. 


On the other hand, monitoring competitors' trademark portfolio can help a company better understand the market layout and brand strategy of other enterprises in the same industry. 


Preventing infringement 


The consequences for a brand when infringement happens can be devastating, and it could include loss of market share, revenue, and customer trust. Early detection of infringement can enable a business to move quickly and take the necessary legal steps to prevent further unauthorized use and protect its market position. 

 

Woodburn Accountants & Advisors is one of China’s most trusted business setup advisory firms.


Woodburn Accountants & Advisors is specialized in inbound investment to China and Hong Kong. We focus on eliminating the complexities of corporate services and compliance administration. We help clients with services ranging from trademark registration and company incorporation to the full outsourcing solution for accounting, tax, and human resource services. Our advisory services can be tailor-made based on the companies’ objectives, goals and needs which vary depending on the stage they are at on their journey.

 

Talk to an expert


Schedule a 30-mins complimentary, no-obligation call to see how Woodburn can help you. Book a call with our Head of Business Advisory - Kristina Koehler-Coluccia.

Topics we can advise on include:

  • Company Registration

  • Cloud Accounting & Financial Reporting

  • Cloud Payroll Services

  • Tax & Audit Services

  • Recruitment

  • Employer-of-Record

  • Visa Application

  • Trademark Registration

  • Switch to Woodburn

  • Partner with Woodburn (cross referral) 

Our calls are automatically scheduled via Zoom - or via Teams, WeChat or WhatsApp upon direct request. 

Our advisory calls are available from Monday-Friday from 8am to 5pm CEST and Wednesday until 9pm CEST.

 

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Woodburn Accountants & Advisors is one of China and Hong Kong’s
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