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Social Brand Protection and Trademark Registration in China: How It Works and What Should Be Registered

Updated: Jun 5


Social brand protection e registrazione del marchio in Cina

Seeing your own brand in the hands of another company is every entrepreneur's worst nightmare. A lifetime's work can be undone in moments due to someone copying and improperly using a trademark, often so meticulously that even the most loyal customers are deceived.

This is why it's always important to protect your brand, so you can operate with peace of mind and preserve the reputation of your trademark, especially when preparing to explore new commercial frontiers.


In this article, we will provide you with information regarding Brand Protection in China thanks to the expertise of our native Chinese team and the contribution of Federica Bredolin, Trademark & Design Attorney at the specialized firm De Gaspari-Osgnach.


Summary


How can a foreign company register its trademark in China?

According to the annual report of the CNIPA (China National Intellectual Property Administration), in 2021 the number of Chinese trademark registration applications reached 9,451,000, among which 258,000 were owned by foreign entities. These figures confirm the growing interest in China and its market by international companies.

Today, China assumes the role of a consumer country and no longer just a producer country. This is why many Italian companies, given the increasing local interest in Made in Italy products, have already entered the Chinese market or are preparing to do so.

Before proceeding in this direction, however, it is essential to protect one's own trademark and distinctive signs.


Is it really necessary to safeguard your trademark in China?

Federica Bredolin reminds us that Chinese trademark law follows the first-to-file principle. This principle requires a certain degree of caution when planning a development strategy that potentially includes China.

It should be noted that, by virtue of the principle of territoriality, rights acquired through the registration and/or use of a trademark in Italy or the European Union do not automatically extend to other territories.

It is unfortunately well known that many Chinese entities are skilled at intercepting foreign trademarks associated with commercially promising projects and registering them locally before the legitimate foreign owner.

By doing so, and despite attempts in recent years to improve national legislation to protect trademark rights, these entities seek to profit, for example, by copying and reselling the registration to the highest bidder, or otherwise unduly benefiting from the entrepreneurial efforts of others.

In China, but not only, there is a real risk of third parties usurping trademarks originally held by Italian companies. Therefore, it is crucial to be prudent, act in advance, and register your trademarks early.


Otherwise, attempting to recover them later is an uphill battle, very demanding in terms of time and costs, with outcomes that are not always predictable.


What do you need to know to register a trademark in China?

First of all, it is essential to keep two fundamental points in mind:

  1. It is important to pay attention to the cultural, linguistic, and legislative peculiarities that characterize China, being aware that the rules of communication and marketing can follow different paths and be crucial for the success of a new project.

  2. The trademark must first be registered in Latin characters to protect the identity version of the Italian company entering the Chinese market. However, it is highly recommended to also register the trademark in Chinese characters. The Chinese consumer prefers the latter version, as it is easier to read, pronounce, and remember. If not “guided” to read the Latin characters through a version in ideograms chosen by the owning company, the local market will autonomously and spontaneously provide one, with outcomes not always advisable from a reputational standpoint. There are numerous cases that have set a precedent in this regard!

Proteggi il tuo brand sul mercato cinese
Practical information for registering your trademark, including on social media.

Obtaining a Chinese national trademark – considering costs and timelines (in the absence of objections or oppositions 9 months from the application filing for an approximate cost of around 2,000 euros for single-class registration) and the undeniable advantages it provides to its owner – still represents the simplest and most cost-effective tool for resolving the majority of problems and disputes that may hinder the launch of a new project, allowing the company to focus resources and energies on other crucial areas for business development.


Social Brand Protection, what is it?

 

We could define Social Brand Protection as the process of defending one's brand on Chinese digital platforms.

Protecting your brand on major Chinese social platforms such as WeChat and Little Red Book is necessary as these channels are essential for developing

branding, communication, and strengthening your business proposition in China.


This practice, alongside trademark registration, involves registering and verifying the brand within Chinese channels to prevent improper moves by competitors and, at the same time, provide users with a verified reference of the company.

Unfortunately, it is well known that several Italian companies have had profiles registered and verified on Chinese social media without their knowledge.


What are the risks of not owning Chinese social media profiles?


In a market where digital presence is fundamental, this aspect cannot be left to chance, precisely because it impacts the healthy commercial growth and branding of the company.


  • If a malicious actor or an unfair competitor creates and verifies them, it could take years and a lot of money to regain ownership.

  • Since they're not controlled by the company, they could be a source of inconsistent, negative, and, above all, false communication.

  • The lack of management or incorrect information about the brand can create serious problems for the brand's commercial strategy, effectively blocking its growth.

The main advice for the companies is to create them directly, without completely delegating this activity to third-party agents or distributors. This allows the company to have official ownership.

If created and managed by local partners, what would happen if, for strategic reasons, the company decided to change them?

Examples of trademark registration in China

Federica also explains how it is possible to register the trademark in Chinese characters, focusing on the so-called phonetic transliteration, attempting to reproduce the sound of the original brand (Ferrari - 法拉利, fǎlālì), translate it (Apple - 苹果, píngguǒ), or alternatively, in combination, mix the two approaches and register a trademark that both reproduces the sound of the brand in Latin characters and conveys a pleasant meaning for the perception of the Chinese consumer. Consider, for example, Coca-Cola (可口可乐, kěkǒu kělè), which could be translated as a poetic "joy in the mouth."


The most attentive and structured companies even protect the trademark with numerous versions in ideograms, including those they consider unappetizing and do not intend to use, in order to avoid them being registered and used by third parties with potentially very damaging repercussions for their reputation.


Conclusion and considerations

We know that registering your trademark in China and verifying your official accounts on Chinese social media platforms is a crucial step for anyone looking to grow in the Chinese market.

The risk of being copied and wasting resources is just around the corner. One piece of advice is to collaborate with professionals who understand both local and Western culture, so as to find the right communication strategies that enhance the perception of your brand.


We at CDM - China Digital Marketing want to be the trusted partner for Italian companies with the ambition to build a growth path in China. Thanks to our staff, both in Italy and in China, we can help you navigate the bureaucratic and cultural challenges of registering your trademark in the Middle Kingdom.


To understand how we can best support you send us an email: cdm@chinadigitalmarketing.it


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