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Registering a Trademark in China: A Necessary Step for Fashion and Luxury Brands

Last modified: July 23, 2021

With the staggering growth in China’s fashion and luxury industry, the country has attracted some of the greatest companies from all over the world. They are looking to expand their activities by entering into a market that is on track for rapid expansion. Registering your brand before entering the Chinese market is a crucial step. You know it, China has an abundance of counterfeit goods under well-known brands in its markets which could lead to difficulties for genuine companies such as yours. Once registered and protected, though counterfeits will still exist it’s much more difficult they’ll get away with using your name or logo because that trademark belongs only to you! Although it can sound absurd to register a trademark specifically for china, it is an important step for big companies and small ones alike. Many major brands have failed to do so with dire consequences as it is the first thing you need to establish before starting a business there. We will explain how crucial this process is, and what steps should be taken when registering a trademark in China from abroad or within China.

China is the Second-Largest Economy in the World is Also One of the Most Competitive

In 1978, as Chinese President Deng Xiaoping focused on economic development, the country’s output was multiplied by four by 2000. Starting in the 1990s, China increased its participation in global organizations and assumed a prominent position in global political and economic activities. Since the introduction of the economic reforms in 1978, China has become the world’s manufacturing hub. Now, the Chinese economy has experienced astonishing growth in the last few decades that catapulted the country to become the world’s second-largest economy with 300 billion yuan of revenues in 2019 and is expected to reach 400 billion yuan as of 2023. Thus, the fashion and luxury industries are amongst the most promising and lucrative for the years to come, especially when it comes to foreign luxury brands, with Chinese consumers are more than ever ready to spend thousands of dollars on fashion and luxury goods

(© Hector Retamal / AFP)

With outstanding growth in several promising and lucrative sectors such as new technologies and e-commerce. The tech-savvy population now represents a tremendous opportunity for brands to increase their sales and reputation in China thanks to social media and online platforms.

Thanks to China’s digitalization, it is also easier than ever for Chinese consumers as well as Chinese companies to look for inspiration from other brands for example. However, it can sometimes lead to counterfeiting or intellectual property abuse. That’s why companies should protect themselves from potential competitors and other companies that are trying to make money on the backs of others.

China and its counterfeit products

Counterfeit bags China

If you have been to China, you have probably seen some street shops selling counterfeit products with the Louis Vuitton or Gucci logo (sometimes written upside down, with a spelling error, or even almost exactly the same as the original). Counterfeiting has always been a major issue for international luxury brands but is also starting to affect smaller brands as well.

Therefore, from the moment a brand starts to be well-established among Chinese consumers, there’s the possibility that one day, you’ll find counterfeits of your products both online and offline, sold by grey-market suppliers, or even ‘trademark squatters’.

Registering a trademark in China: The first thing you should do when entering the Chinese market

Many brands have contacted us with interest about expanding their activities into China-but very few were aware that they had to register a Chinese trademark before anything else could (should) happen on e-commerce platforms like Alibaba or JD.com. Having your registered trademarks in this country has many benefits: firstly, it gives peace of mind when doing business with Chinese consumers, as well as when dealing with other businesses partners; secondly, there are fewer chances financial disputes will arise between all parties involved due to ignorance over copyrights/patents infringements since everyone is aware of the trademark, etc…

Steps to register your trademark in China

  • Get to know and understand the Chinese market
  • Conduct research about your field of activity, your competitors, the trademarks already deposited, the targetted audience, etc
  • Go to the Trademark Office of the National Intellectual Property Administration
  • Look for information about the different ways of registering your logo or your brand name
  • Choose the different classifications you want to apply for (45 categories of products, each having several subclasses)
  • Be prepared to register both your original brand name, but also your Chinese name if you have one (which is highly recommended)
  • Prepare all the required documents
  • Confirm your foreign and Chinese address (it must be identical to the company’s certificate or your passport depending on the situation)
  • Submit your application and wait for the result

We will develop these axes later all along this article.

What does “registering a trademark” in China mean?

It means that you will officially register your brand name and products in China.

International firms do often assume that just by registering their trademarks in their home country, they will be recognized in China as well. However, the Chinese system does not recognize trademarks registered in other parts of the world and will grant juridical protection only to companies that were registered in Mainland China.

Registering a trademark in China is critical

Around the world, depending on the country you sell your products, several agreements were made in order to facilitate trades between the different parties. In most countries, your trademark will be available from the moment you’ll register it, and then you’ll have a few documents to complete in order to sell your products abroad.

In China, it is different, as the government only acknowledges trademarks that are registered within the country’s own jurisdiction. As mentioned earlier, this means that even if your trademark is registered in your home country, you’ll have to register it again in China. On top of that, if you are not able to do so before another company registers it, you’ll be unable to sell your products under your own brand name.

Why do I need to register my trademark again in China?

China is home to many of the world’s largest economies, but it doesn’t have a mutual trademark agreement with any other country. This means that if you want your business’ trademarks recognized in China, then they’ll need to be registered again for recognition as yours there.

For example, even if you are the founder of your own brand, trademark squatters will be able to sell freely products under your brand while you won’t be able to do so. Several brands have contacted us to say how much they were desperate because another company had already registered their trademark. The problem is that it is extremely difficult, long, and fastidious to get your trademark back and that you’ll have to pay quite a huge amount of money to get it back.

Registering your trademark is one of the most important steps you can take to protect yourself in China. By registering, not only do you have all rights for your product but also protection under Chinese law from competitors copying and selling illegally distributed copies. The best advice we’ll give is to register as soon as possible so that when it comes time to sell products or open up a business – no other company will be able to steal anything without legal repercussions

Trademark Disupute example: The Muji Vs Natural Mill case

Japanese brand Muji Vs Domestic brand Natural Mill (© 早报)

One of the most well-known intellectual property violation cases in China recently has been Muji, an established Japanese fashion company whose lackadaisical attitude towards registering its trademarks for the entirety of its products proved detrimental to the brand. Muji prioritized focusing on advertising and marketing campaigns with no thought given as to whether they should verify or even have a registered trademark if it could help protect against infringement from other brands. In the meantime, a local brand (a copycat brand) had already registered the trademark ‘无印良品’ (Natural Mill) which has exactly the same three last characters and the first one being extremely similar in terms of sound as Muji’s Chinese brand name ‘ 無印良品 ‘. Natural Mill accused Muji of using “their logo”. To put an end to this, Muji was sentenced by The Supreme Court of Beijing to pay 626,000 yuan ($89,000) of compensation to Natural Mill. After paying the fine to the copycat, Muji had to issue a public apology to the copycat company for trademark infringement.

Don’t be like Muji, register your brand within China’s trademark system and save yourself from troubles down the line.

How to Register a Trademark in China?

Things to know before registering your trademark in China

First of all, if you want to gather information about registering a trademark in China, you can directly go to the Trademark Office of the National Intellectual Property Administration‘s website. However, as everything is written in Chinese, you’ll need the help of a translator or a native Chinese to help you. You can also contact us to be accompanied by our native experts.

Then, as mentioned earlier, registering a trademark in China means that you are unique. That’s why conducting in-depth research to see if your trademark is available is highly recommended. In fact, if your trademark is already registered, your application process will automatically be rejected, which will cost you time (you’ll have to start all over again) and money (no refund possible). It can be fastidious and long for companies to do this on their own, that’s why we can help you with these researches thanks to our experts and our tools. It is also important to take into account that it can take up to a year between the beginning of the research and the moment you will have your trademark certificate.

The process of registering a trademark in China

The process for registering your trademark in China is long and fastidious. Along your journey, some companies will probably try to convince you that they can give you the trademark certificate in only a few months, but pay attention! There’s a high possibility of being scammed by these fake agencies.

Example of an official Chinese trademark document

The official process for registering your trademark in China is clear:

First of all, the process can be entirely conducted online via the Trademark Office of the National Intellectual Property Administration website. However, the platform will be in Chinese, so be prepared to be accompanied by a translator or a native employee

How long will the process take?

  • It will take approximately between 12 and 14 months

How much will I have to pay?

  • You will have to pay 270 RMB for an online application for your trademark certificate, and 300 RMB if you want to apply by paper
  • If you want to be accompanied by an agency, prices can start at 500 yuans to thousands of yuan according to several criteria

What do I need to do to get my certificate?

  • You will have to prepare a bunch of documents to show that you are qualified and reliable to be able to sell your products in China (including a stamped copy of your business licence). You will also need to provide a scanned copy of the POA (Power of Attorney) (POA) with your signature, as well as your company’s certificate or your own passport if you individually apply for it.
  • Then you will have to create an account and fill out all the forms on the same website again
  • After that, you will have to wait approximately 3-4 months to receive your application and confirm online your trademark certificate

NB: By registering your trademark, you will probably just want to register your brand for your specific industry, but be careful, if you do so, it means that other companies will be able to register the same trademark for another industry. If you want to register for the cosmetic and fashion industries, for example, it will double the application costs. For example, Lancôme, which is specialized in cosmetics, also registered its trademark for consulting and financial industries as well, in order to avoid being copied by other companies.

Both products were sold under the brand ‘Iphone’

The difficult part is to predict how much will your brand grow in popularity in China, and how competitors will react to this. If you want to start by registering your trademark in the fashion industry, for example, competitors will still be able to register the same trademark to sell their phones. Back in 2016, a brand was able to sell its bags and wallets under the brand “iPhone”, and Apple even loses its appeal in the court. If you want to read more about this incredible case, you can look at this article from The Guardian.

How long will my Chinese Register trademark be valid for?

  • Once you’ll have obtained your official trademark certificate, it will be valid for 10 years, which is of course, renewable. If you want more information about this, you can contact us and we will explain all the steps according to your needs and inquiries.

How many categories do I have to apply for?

There are 45 categories overall, with items under each. Depending on your activities and presence in China, as well as ambitions to conquer the Chinese market, you will apply for the most strategic categories. For example, if you are in the luxury industry, you should register your trademark for the fashion, cosmetic, beauty, etc. industries. However, you will have to buy the whole category, even if it includes items you don’t need, and you will have to pay 270 RMB for each one of them. That’s why the price can quickly escalate. Also, it is mandatory to register as well your logo as quickly as possible to avoid being copied! Moreover, you should register both your English brand name as well as your Chinese brand name as soon as possible.

If you want to know how to create your Chinese brand name, you can read our detailed article here.

Lastly, most of the companies only think of registering their trademark under their original name, but it can also interesting to register the name not only in a horizontal way but also written in a vertical way as well to avoid being copied. Don’t forget that in China, the game is even more complicated as Chinese companies can play with the sound, to copy your brand in terms of phonetics or meaning without using the same characters, orders, logo, etc.

Contact us to Register your Trademark in China

The Chinese market is one of the most promising in the world in terms of opportunities, both for smaller companies like startups, but also for larger international companies. But in order to succeed, you will need to adapt to the Chinese market as well as to follow China’s regulations in terms of intellectual property and trademark. As you depicted all along this article, registering your trademark is the 1st step you should do when entering the Chinese market.

Working with a specialized agency is the best way to register your trademark

Applying for registering a trademark in China is a long process that required lots of time and effort, most of the most time all in Chinese. It requires long market research about competitors that already have registered their trademark in China, as well as a deep understanding of the Chinese language. Our experts can help you register your trademark in China after conducting several in-depth research to see if your trademark is available and avoid unnecessary expenses.

Why should you chose GMA to register your trademark in China?

Conscious of the difficulty for foreign brands to register their trademark in China, we can take care of the whole process. We have international experts as well as native ones who understand all the subtleties of the Chinese language and especially the ‘rules’ when registering a trademark. At GMA, we also offer brand naming services in order to help you enter smoothly the Chinese market, conveying at the same time your brand’s value and characteristics to Chinese consumers. Our experts will of course give your more details about the exact meaning and the pronunciation. After that, we will take care of registering your trademark in China.

Therefore, if you have more specific questions about registering your trademark, creating your Chinese brand name, entering the Chinese market, or if you have any other questions, feel free to contact us, and our experts will reply within 24 hours.

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