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Trademark protection in China

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How do I register my trademark in China?

Trademark registration in China is the responsibility of the China National Intellectual Property Administration (CNIPA). Companies without a legal presence in China must appoint a CNIPA-designated trademark agency to act as their intermediary. Foreign companies with a legal presence in China may file directly, but it is still recommended to use the services of a trademark agent. Play an active role in your trademark registration and do not rely on your partner or distributor to handle this process on your behalf. 

What are the steps involved in a Chinese trademark application? How long does it take?

Formality check

Substantive elimination

Public announcement

Final approval

A straightforward trademark registration can take 12-15 months depending on the complexity of the mark. CNIPA has recently shortened the examination period to 8 months in most cases, and has committed to further reducing it to 4 months in five years.

What are subclasses in trademark protection in China?

China follows the Nice Classification system of goods and services for trademark protection but also applies a unique system of subclasses. The protection scope of the trademark in China is then based on the classes and specific subclasses under which it is registered. This generally means that different owners can register the same trademark in different classes, even in different subclasses under the same class, without infringing on each other’s trademarks rights.

How do I choose the protection scope of a trademark application?

It is important for companies to carefully consider the most appropriate scope of protection for your trademark. This could be limited to the products and services that you currently offer, but it could also include product classes where you plan to expand your product offerings in the future, or even neighbouring product classes to avoid a third party registering your trademark and competing with your own product by confusing consumers. For example, it may be obvious to apply for your trademark under "food product" but you may also want to consider registering your trademark under "health food product" and "processed foods”.

Of course, trademark application fees increase with the number of classes included. It is cost prohibitive for the average company to seek comprehensive trademark protection covering all product classes. An experienced trademark agent or lawyer should be able to provide expert advice on the appropriate scope of protection for your specific situation.

Why should I register a Chinese-language trademark?

No matter how known your English- or French-language brand may be in other markets, Chinese consumers will use a Chinese name to identify your product. If you do not create your own Chinese-language brand name, Chinese consumers will organically create one for you, which may or may not reflect the brand image you have worked hard to develop. Seek assistance from a person with strong grasp of Mandarin Chinese to avoid any inappropriate or poor sounding trademarks.

Registering your Chinese-language trademark in Chinese characters and pinyin (transliteration of Chinese characters using the Roman alphabet) can be just as important as for your English- or French-language trademark.

Do I need to register my trademark in China if I only sell through cross-border e-commerce?

Foreign companies looking to open flagship stores on Chinese cross-border e-commerce platforms like JD Worldwide and Tmall Global typically only require proof of trademark registration in their country of incorporation. It is nonetheless strongly recommended to register your trademark in China to ensure you can operate in China without infringing on a third-party’s trademark and that you have the legal means to enforce your right if infringement occurs.

How do I enforce my trademark against infringement on e-commerce platforms?

In addition to regular enforcement options, trademark owners can make use of the notice and take-down mechanisms offered by China’s major e-commerce platforms. Upon receipt of sufficient evidence of infringement and proof of trademark ownership, the platform can remove the infringing links. Before filing an infringement complaint with an e-commerce platform, it is best to consult a lawyer who can assist in preserving and notarizing related webpages and links as evidence.

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