Chinese Language Trade Marks and their Importance

Why are Chinese language marks important?

China is Australia’s largest trading partner and for any business, protection of their brands in China should be carefully considered. However, when it comes to China, many Chinese consumers have a limited knowledge of the Latin alphabet. In fact, according to the World Population Review, the current population is around 1.4 billion and it is estimated that less than 1% of Mainland Chinese understand the English language. It is therefore strongly recommended that foreign companies should seriously consider registering Chinese language marks early on in their business strategy to ensure complete control over their brands in the Chinese market. By filing early, you may also avoid costly litigation in trying to recover control of your brands or having to re-brand entirely.

What are the likely consequences of NOT protecting a brand in Chinese characters in China?

Chinese consumers often refer to brands by a Chinese name, therefore a Chinese language version of a brand is just as important, if not more so, than the English version in China. Given the limited use of the English language by Chinese consumers, not marketing your brand in Chinese characters will leave it to the Chinese consumer to devise their own translation for the mark. This could have dire consequences for a brand; for example, the Chinese language mark may be derogatory or convey a negative connotation which does not align to a brands philosophy. Furthermore, it may be that more than one Chinese language mark is devised by the Chinese consumer, thereby diluting the brand. 

An important point to remember is to file the mark in China as soon as possible. China is a “first to file” country and therefore by not filing an official Chinese character mark you leave it open for competitors (Chinese and foreign) to register their own version of your brand in Chinese characters.

Therefore, the failure to register a Chinese character trade mark can impact a brand’s marketability in China and the use of an unregistered Chinese character mark could even result in an action for trade mark infringement.

Thinking of trading in China?

If you are thinking of trading in China, the first action you should take is to file applications for your marks in China; both the English version and the Chinese language versions.

Chinese language versions of a trade mark can be:

  1. a translation of the English word/s into Chinese characters; and/or
  2. be a transliteration of the Chinese character mark (a transliteration is the phonetic equivalent of the Chinese character mark written in the Latin alphabet).

Be aware that registration of the Chinese language mark will not necessarily preclude a third party from using the transliteration as a trade mark but it means you will own and control the transliteration.  Therefore it is recommended that a brand owner apply to register both the Chinese character mark and the transliteration to ensure proper control over their brands in China.

Brand owners should remember that while registration of trade marks in China can be an expensive exercise and a lengthy process, the benefits of registering a brand in Chinese language versions far outweigh the consequences of not registering these marks.

Please contact us if you require assistance with the registration of your brand in China and/or if we can assist you to devise an appropriate Chinese character mark that accurately reflects your brand in China.