Ask Our Experts: How to protect your brand in the global marketplace (China Edition)
1. Which government agency administers trade mark registration in China?
In China, the China National Intellectual Property Administration (CNIPA) administers various IP such as patents and trade marks, while the National Copyright Administration administers copyright.
It is important to note that IP protection is territorial. Regardless of whether you have registered your trade mark in Singapore, it is important to do so in China before embarking on any business activities to protect your brand and business interests in that market.
2. How do I create an effective trade mark that is suitable for the China market?
In principle, what makes a trade mark effective in Singapore would also likely apply in China. Trade marks are essentially symbols of products/goods or commercial services, and they help associate a particular product or service with a particular seller so that buyers can readily distinguish your offerings from the others' including your competitors’. However, localising your brand for foreign markets so that customers can resonate better with it will often require translation – and this is where it gets tricky.
Direct translations may not work well, or at all
While your trade mark may be perfect for your home market, that does not mean it will also translate well directly for foreign customers, due to nuances in language. For example, ‘Boleh! Boleh!’ is particularly relevant for Singapore’s multi-cultural market, but a direct Chinese translation to “Can! Can!” may not resonate to the Chinese market.
It is also possible that your trade mark may not be allowed in the foreign market because it is viewed as being descriptive of your goods and services in that country and language. For example, translating local brand ‘KOPITIAM’ into Chinese would just read as “Coffee Shop”, which cannot be registered as a trademark for a coffee shop as it is descriptive.
Direct translations can still work in some instances
In some cases however, a literal translation of your trade mark could be effective. If you operate a franchise, using a direct translation of your brand name makes it clear that it refers to the original brand. Case in point: Burger King’s Chinese mark is a direct translation.
Direct translations could however, be challenging for trade marks that are more unique, or that comprise a ‘made-up’ word.
Pick your Chinese name and characters with care
Choosing the right Chinese characters for your brand name is also important, as the Chinese language comprises thousands of characters, each with several unique meanings, and even pronunciations that vary between regions.
Be sensitive to negative connotations locally
Cultures, languages, and social norms within foreign countries can also influence how your brand is perceived. For instance, “Green Hat” may seem like an innocent enough name for a brand, but this may not go over well in China as “Green Hat” has a negative connotation there.
Sticking to your original English brand name may not be effective
Trying to avoid translation issues altogether by using your English brand as-is in China may also backfire. If you do not specify an official Chinese name for your brand, your partners or consumers in China may use an unofficial one out of convenience, which may not align with your vision for your brand. Case in point: when Coca-Cola was first launched in China without an official Chinese name, some local shopkeepers initially marketed the soft drink using characters that sounded phonetically similar – one famous example literally translates to ‘wax-flattened mare’. It is therefore advisable to have an official Chinese name for your brand.
3. How do I keep my trade mark applications time- and cost-effective?
Singapore and China are both signatories to the Madrid Protocol, which is a treaty administered by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) to govern international application of trade marks. It streamlines administration processes by allowing applicants to enjoy the convenience of obtaining protection for a trademark in several countries through one application with a single office, in one language, with one set of fees, and in one currency.
For more information on matters relating to trade mark registration, please visit IPOS’ website.
4. Are there any grants available for trade mark applications?
Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) can take advantage of the Market Readiness Assistance (MRA) grant to bolster their expansion into overseas markets – ‘IP Search and Application’ is one of the eligible activities under the grant.
This MRA is administered by Enterprise Singapore (ESG) and the grant has been extended to March 2023. For more information on the MRA, please visit ESG’s website.
5. Can I file for my trade marks in China myself, or do I need to hire a trade mark agent to act on my behalf?
Foreign applicants or organisations who do not have an office or a residential property in China will need to hire a trade mark agent from China for trade mark filings. For Singapore applicants or companies, working with a trade mark agent from Singapore who will help you liaise with the trade mark agent from China may be in your best interests due to the legalistic nature of trade mark applications.
6. Who can I approach for more information on trade mark filings in China?
For non-legal and IP-related matters, you can contact IPOS International at [email protected].
Alternatively, book a complimentary 45-minute chat session on your intangible assets and IP with IP Strategists at IPOS International here: https://iposinternational.com/en/advisory/ia-chat
This FAQ is the first in our 'Ask Our Experts' series, where our team tackles commonly asked questions on using intangible assets and IP for business growth. In this instalment, we feature experts from our Global Engagement team, Morgan Cao and Felix Lim, who work closely with businesses in China on intangible asset advisory, IP education, and more.
About Our Experts
Morgan is Senior Assistant Director of Global Engagement at IPOS International. He brings his experience in transnational business expansion to his current role in helping enterprises and research institutes succeed in all stages of innovation – from creation to protection, and commercialisation of intangible assets and IP.
He works closely with businesses in the China market in the areas of IP strategy, management, and monetisation, through advisory and educational programmes.
Felix is the Assistant Director of Global Engagement at IPOS International. His main area of expertise lies in business development and project management, having helped drive key national initiatives such as the IP Hub Masterplan and more recently, the Singapore IP Strategy 2030. He advises local companies on leveraging their intangible assets and IP for international expansion, with a special focus on the Chinese market.
Felix also leads capability-building initiatives tailored for the Chinese audience, through organising IP training programmes.
Have a burning question for our experts on IA and IP? Send it to us at [email protected]!
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