If you are manufacturing or selling products in China, you should consider registering your trademark in China. A trademark protects your brand name, your logo, and your service marks so others can’t sell products (especially counterfeit products) under your brand. If you aren’t fully protecting your IP and brand, scammers will find a way to profit off of your absent trademark.

Why do you need to register a trademark in China and what does the process look like?

What is a trademark?

A trademark is the recognizable design or expression of your brand, usually through the brand name and logo. In the U.S., a trademark is denoted with the ® symbol.

A “trademark” protects the intellectual property of your brand’s design. This prevents others from stealing your brand name or logo for their own products. For example, you couldn’t sell a purse called “Coca-Cola,” because Coca-Cola owns the rights to that name—even though it’s a different product and industry.

Trademarks are especially important if you have a private label. In most cases, if you are reselling branded products, that brand likely already owns a Chinese trademark. With a private label, though, you have to ensure that no one is stealing your name or logo for their own products. Selling counterfeit products under your brand could end up costing you customers and getting you into serious legal battles.

When you file for a trademark, you’re only filing for a trademark in a single country. If you are selling products in the U.S., you’ll need to file with the USPTO. If you are manufacturing or selling in China, you need to also register your trademark with Chinese Customs.

You need a Chinese trademark if you are selling, manufacturing, or exporting. Even if you are not selling products in China, you need a trademark to protect production and export as well.

Why register a Chinese trademark

1. To protect against others using your brand

The primary purpose of any trademark is to prevent others from using your brand name or logo for their own products. This helps prevent counterfeit products or “brand stealers” from trying to take your customers away from you.

Often, someone will produce low-quality counterfeit products and sell it under your brand name. Customers don’t know the difference, so they purchase this cheaper product thinking it’s at a discount. This not only loses sales, but it also creates dissatisfied customers who lose faith in your brand. This is a risk you can’t afford to take.

To maintain control of your customers and brand, you need a trademark.

If you don’t have a Chinese trademark, you likely won’t win any legal battle to take down counterfeit products selling in China or elsewhere. A trademark legally proves that you are the only person who can sell under that name in that country. Without a Chinese trademark, the Chinese government usually won’t back you up, even if you own trademarks in other countries.

Note that most foreign-facing sites like Alibaba will take your U.S. trademark into account. If you see someone selling your branded products on Alibaba or Amazon, the site will help you pull down those products. However, holding a Chinese trademark speeds up the process of removing the other seller’s products from the marketplace.

Read: How To Avoid Intellectual Property Infringement With Chinese Sourcing

Do I Need A Trademark In China? trademark symbol in front of a globe

2. To protect from others accusing you of trademark infringement

China is a first-to-file jurisdiction with regards to trademarks. This means that the first person to register the trademark owns it, even if there was another business using that brand for years prior.

China considers “trademark infringement” to include manufacturing of goods as well. So even if you are manufacturing in China and selling elsewhere, you could still be infringing if you are manufacturing products under a trademark someone else owns.

If you don’t register your trademark, someone else can swoop in and own your trademark overnight.

These “trademark squatters” will register the trademarks of foreign companies who are manufacturing goods in China. They will then blackmail you for money, threatening to seize your goods for trademark infringement if you don’t pay. This can create a severe expense and legal concern for any business.

3. To sell your goods in China

If you want to sell your brand in China now or in the future, you need a registered trademark.

If you start manufacturing in China or your brand sees any success in the U.S., someone will register your trademark in China so they can “own” your brand overseas. This can prohibit you from making or selling your goods in China (unless you pay them).

China is the biggest market in the world, so you want to leave the door open for selling. If you don’t register your trademark, you almost instantly close off any possibility of selling in China in the future if someone registers your trademark first.

4. To license your goods to a distributor

A Chinese distributor helps get your product on shelves and into the hands of the consumer. Licensing your products to a Chinese distributor gives them the right to sell your product under your brand name. This can be a good solution for a number of brands that want to increase their sales and visibility overseas.

Most distributors will require that you register your trademark before they’ll work with you. You can’t license out a brand that you don’t own with a trademark.

Note: Don’t let a distributor register a trademark “on your behalf.” Always file your own trademark to make sure it’s filed appropriately.

Do I Need A Trademark In China? trademark stamp

5. To be a more attractive buyout

Owning your entire IP (intellectual property) increases your value to investors. If you have any interest in possibly selling your company, owning multiple trademarks in key markets makes you a more attractive buyout target. Investors lose interest if they find out you own the trademark online in America and someone else has your trademark in other countries.

Read: Amazon Seller Suspensions And Baseless Rights Owner Complaints

How to register a Chinese trademark

Registering a trademark is easy and low-cost. However, we usually recommend working with an agent or a sourcing firm like Ask Idea Sourcing to ensure that all documents are thoroughly and correctly completed.

You’ll want to provide Chinese customs with the following documentation:

  • Chinese business name and English business name
  • Registered address of IP owner
  • Contact information for business (name, department, address, cell phone, landline, fax, email)
  • Business license (proves legitimacy): Certificate of Incorporation or Certificate of Good Standing
  • Business license translation into Chinese
  • IP owner
  • Type of registration (domestic or WIPO)
  • Trademark registration number, class, goods, time period of IP registration
  • Certificate of trademark registration (including photo of brand and logo)
  • List of Customs heightened protection

If you are working with a global sourcing firm, the team will likely also provide their Chinese office’s address. Chinese customs likes to see that your company has connections in China to avoid long-distance dealings. This can give you a leg up to make sure your trademark registration goes through.

Note: A lot of business owners make the mistake of thinking that a Chinese business registration will cover their trademark as well. If you’re forming a business entity in China, you’ll register both a Chinese and English business name. The name must be approved by the State Administration of Industry and Commerce (SAIC) in order to be legal.

However, this simply allows you to do business in China; it does not protect your brand or trademark. A third party could still step in and “steal” your trademark before you. Thus, it’s critical that you both register your business name as well as your trademark.

The Bottom Line

Registering your trademark in China is an important part of ensuring comprehensive protection of your intellectual property. It allows you to manufacture and sell under your brand name while preventing others from owning or tainting your branded trademark.

Not sure how to begin setting up your overseas sourcing and business?

Contact Ask Idea Sourcing now!

We can help you avoid IP infringement, find the ideal business markets, and grow your brand in a legal and sustainable way.

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