The Opening Door of the Chinese Trademark System

Nadaline Webster,

Around the world, each country has developed differently. Even between countries that share common ancestors and language, the differences can be astounding. The business globe is split into ‘key regions’ where closer countries are grouped together - such as North America, EMEA, Europe and Asia. As you move from looking at countries to continents, the gap in natural cultural understanding of those markets tends to grow wider.

Even within these groupings and from an intellectual property perspective, there are legislative differences and the cultural variations that underpin them. Chief amongst these are language and interpretation of language, fluctuating markets, differing consumer tastes, diverse ideologies and opinions, aggressiveness of competitors, varying business practices, local traditions and history. All these factors and more will impact your trademark strategy in each. The creation and management of compelling brands on a multinational scale is not a task for the faint of heart. Understanding can help build a pathway to commercial success.

Which are the most important markets?

Of course, for your company, the answer to that question will depend on where you currently do business and where you intend to expand your activities. As more of a generality and in relation to trademarks, the highest activity regions are the ones to watch. China definitively tops that list and has done so for the past few years.

It might also be usefully argued that, whilst less clearly important, it is good to understand more about how key markets operate whether you ever intend to file there or not. The world is increasingly globalised and foreign filings are growing in almost every region. You might not be going to them but they are coming to you. Understanding the basic underpinnings that drive their trademark strategies can and conceivably should influence your defensive approach when needed.

How difficult is it for foreigners to navigate the Chinese trademark system?

It’s probably fair to say ‘very’, in response to this question. Trademark law as a system is quite young in China compared with many other countries with the first laws making an appearance in the early 1980’s. Despite this and more recently, a number of very significant changes have been made to both the trademark system itself and the underlying attitudes to transparency. New learning opportunities are becoming available all the time, breaking down the previously impenetrable barriers for trademark practitioners outside China.

A case in point is the release last year of a book that is the first of its kind. “Landmark Trademark Cases in China” was translated by Amy Hsiao partner at Swanson and Bratschun. It allows, for the first time, a window into the decisions of the Chinese trademark courts.

While understanding the operation of the trademark courts in China is important, arguably understanding some of the cultural differences and variation in business approaches is even more so. For example, for Western countries that operate on a ‘first-to-use’ basis for trademarks, understanding China’s ‘first-to-file’ policy is very important. But bigger than that again are the everyday business implications behind this single piece of information. Few business owners are aware that the possibility of finding your own products impounded as carrying a trademark that now belongs to someone else is a very real one.

The doors to information are slowly being edged further open in China. Not only is the volume of trademark applications rising in China but the presence of Chinese companies in other IPO’s is increasing too. Any companies with an eye on international markets will benefit from the increased availability of insight on trademarks in China.

Few have more specialised insight and practical experience than Amy Hsiao. Joined by Joan Zhang, Senior Counsel at Lenovo, together they present a webinar that delivers the basics of Chinese trademark law and fundamental business impacts that affect strategies. Don’t miss this opportunity to further your knowledge and expand your horizons!

Watch the recording of webinar 'Chinese trademarks demystified'