Protecting Trademarks in China

Follow a few simple guidelines to pursue opportunities in this still-growing powerhouse.

With a population of 1.3 billion at last count, China remains a country ripe with branding opportunities for the savvy manufacturer. Savvy is the key word, of course, as navigating the complex world of intellectual property in China presents different challenges than in the United States. Indeed, if you're thinking about registering a trademark in China, a basic understanding of Chinese law, language and culture is required, says Edward Perlman of Boston-based Wolf Greenfield & Sacks.

Perlman, who co-chairs the law firm's trademark group, also offers these tips:

Transliterate to avoid embarrassing gaffes. Translating English into Chinese characters rarely is successful, says Perlman. Instead, he suggests using Chinese words that sound like your trademark or that have the same meaning. And be prepared for more than one transliteration if you do business in different regions of China. Indeed, Wolf Greenfield suggests that your U.S. trademark law firm work with a competent Chinese law firm to avoid transliterations that are nonsensical or even worse, embarrassing.

Get to the Chinese trademark office as soon as you can. Speed counts in China. The first to file owns the trademark in China. This runs counter to the United States, where the first entity to use the trademark owns it, the law firm notes. "If you have a Western brand, it's very advantageous to file your application ASAP," Perlman says, adding that you won't be able to enforce your brand against knockoffs if you don't have trademark registration.

Enforcement is improving. Perlman says that Chinese authorities recognize that they must protect intellectual property rights for China to participate in the world economy. As a result, they are getting serious about reining in trademark, copyright and patent infringement.

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