China, with its population of more than 1.4 billion, is an attractive market. Many businesses want their products manufactured in China or available to the Chinese market, either directly or through partnering with Chinese businesses such as retailers, distributors, and manufacturers.
However, even if you are not offering your products in China and/or are not looking to sell in China in the foreseeable future, it is vital that you consider trademark registration in China as an essential part of your international intellectual property protection.
Why Trademark Registration
Trademark registration means that you are the only one who can legally use your trademark in China. If sellers in Chinese marketplaces or other locations abuse your trademark after registration, you can enforce your trademark rights online and offline to stop your brand from being abused.
Registering your trademark in China is proof of ownership that enables you to protect your brand on local Chinese websites, marketplaces and other online channels (as well as offline locations).
If, on the other hand, you do not register your trademark in China, it is likely that someone else will register it instead. Trademark squatters look to file for third-party trademarks since under Chinese trademark laws they do not need to prove use in order to register. Since the Chinese counterfeit market is enormous and trademark squatting is a common issue in China, even well-known brands may find themselves fighting to gain control over their branded goods.
First-to-File Wins it All
In China, trademark applications can be filed and registered without evidence of use. In other words, the Chinese system is a first-to-file system, rather than first-to-use. Therefore, if someone registers your trademark, they may use this registration to stop you from selling your products in the Chinese market, and can even sue you in China for using it. Getting your brand back is likely to require time and money, sometimes even paying compensation to counterfeiters for your trademark registration.
This is why filing as early as possible is highly advised, preferably before your brand gains global exposure, and becomes likely to appeal to Chinese sellers, manufacturers, etc. The registration process usually takes over a year, and sometimes even longer. Usually, the protection is effective starting the date of registration, rather than retroactive to the filing date. Only then can you enforce your trademark in China.
Registering a Trademark in China
Registering a trademark in China can be a complex process, and it is recommended to file through a state approved intellectual property agent or attorney. Also, foreigners with no permanent address in China are required by law to use such services. In addition, all documents should be submitted in Chinese. The intellectual property professional can also assist in conducting trademark searches to see if anyone else has already filed for a similar or identical trademark, check compliance with Chinese legal requirements, and advise on the best filing method and classes for trademark registration.
There are two ways to obtain a trademark in China: registering a trademark with the China Trademark Office (CTMO) or using an existing application or registration under the Madrid Protocol. The latter is a cost-effective way of obtaining protection in multiple countries under one application or adding additional countries after trademark registration. Generally speaking, trademark registration requirements in China are similar to those in other countries who have signed the Madrid International Trademark System, although there are some differences that are important to discuss with a Chinese intellectual property professional.
Wiser Trademark Protection
Wiser Market monitors Chinese websites, marketplaces, and other online channels to detect infringements and enforce your trademark rights. Enforcement makes your trademark stronger, and helps secure your brand and revenue in the booming online Chinese market.
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Disclaimer: Information provided in this article is intended to help readers gain information. It is not designed to provide legal, business, commercial or other relevant professional advice.