Trademark registration in China is becoming increasingly important for U.S. companies. Even if you are not quite ready to enter the market, it is imperative to begin the registration process as soon as possible. If not, you may find that someone else has already beaten you to it.
Recently, several high-profile U.S. companies, including Starbucks, Apple and Dell, have sought trademark protection in China only to discover that their marks have already been “hijacked” by an unrelated entity. In these cases, the third party can actually allege that U.S. company is infringing.
To avoid the costly process of regaining trademark ownership, companies need to be proactive. Since China has a first to file system, filing a trademark application will help prevent third parties from using your mark. Companies are also not required to use the mark in China for three years, which allows trademark registration to take place before official product launches are planned or distribution agreements are executed.
To achieve maximum protection, companies should not only register their U.S. brand name but also a Chinese equivalent. The Chinese version can take several forms, a transliteration, a translation, or even a distinctive Chinese mark.
As this post highlights, it can be more difficult to protect trademarks and other IP rights overseas. In China, the first to register owns the mark even against the legitimate U.S. trademark owner who was first to use the mark in that country. Therefore, it is imperative to consult with an attorney experienced in foreign intellectual property concerns.