Last updated: 
2 December 2016

As a business thinking about entering the Chinese market, you need to research and understand which companies, businesses and brands are active in the market.

Selecting a suitable brand is important for your marketing, but it is also important from a legal point of view to ensure you are not infringing on someone else’s registered trade mark.  Having a registered trade mark allows the owner to use and promote their trade mark, and to stop others from misusing it.

Check for similar trade marks

The first step is to do a trade mark search. With over 13 million registered Chinese trade marks in force, it’s important to check if someone else has already registered a mark identical or similar to your own.

The Chinese Trademark Office provides a free search website for existing trade mark applications and registrations. The site can only be seen properly if your computer has Chinese simplified characters installed. You will need to read Chinese to use this site.

Our guide to searching the Chinese trade marks register can help you understand the system.

There are also several commercial trade mark databases which can offer more comprehensive functions for search and monitoring in China, but it is a good idea to seek professional advice rather than try and do it yourself.

We recommend that you search for both the English version and the Chinese version of your trade mark. Keep in mind that your trade mark may consist of an image, a word, a slogan or any combination of these.

What isn’t allowable in China

Many of the things which can’t be used as trade marks in Australia are also banned from use in China. These include:

  • names or emblems of a country or international organisation
  • words or symbols of discrimination against any race
  • words that could mislead the public about the quality or origin of goods
  • foreign geographical names well-known to the public
  • generic names or descriptive words of the goods.

One important difference in China is that trade marks cannot be detrimental to socialist morals or customs, or have other unhealthy influences. The concept of unhealthy influences may be broader than what Australians or Westerners might expect this to cover.

We suggest you seek advice from Chinese trade mark counsel or lawyers when you are choosing a trade mark for use in China. Some Australian law firms/trade mark attorneys who have offices or agents in China can help with this.