China: Q&A: Chinese Language Trademarks For Non-Chinese Companies

Last Updated: 29 November 2019
Article by Brandy Baker

Q: Are Chinese language trademarks necessary for non-Chinese companies?

A: For most companies, the answer is yes. Very few people speak English in China, and registration of an English/Latin mark will not block third parties from registering its Chinese language equivalent. So for those selling their products in China or considering doing so in the future, choosing and registering a Chinese language mark that can be more easily recognized by Chinese consumers and securing those rights as early as possible is important.

Q: What are the risks to not registering a Chinese language trademark?

A: There are two big risks: losing control of your brand/reputation, and bad faith parties filing before you. First, remember that registering an English/Latin mark will not prevent others from registering the Chinese equivalent. So the same risks apply as those that apply when you do not register your English/Latin mark - trademark squatting, counterfeits, others riding on the good-will already built by your brand. If you already have a Chinese language branding, this is especially risky because a third party can in essence steal your business by registering the trademark and even start selling products with that branding. Major brands have faced this problem including Tesla, New Balance, Michael Jordan. Those brand owners have had third parties register and utilize trademarks related to them. For those that have not already chosen Chinese language branding, once the market becomes aware of your products or company and no Chinese language branding is provided, consumers will often create their own way of referring to your brand. This can be problematic because it leaves those "nicknames" open to bad faith parties to register before you and/or the "nickname" chosen by consumers could be unflattering or at least not ideal and this could impact your marketing. This, controlling your branding is important whether you are entering China now or even considering entering years down the road.

Q: : How do I create a Chinese language trademark?

A: Generally brand owners will consider translation vs. transliteration. Some of the best trademarks have been those that utilize a combination of both. There are also some who have forgone both options and chosen completely new branding for the Chinese market.

First, a translation is usually a straight translation of a English/Latin trademark. For example, "Apple" is called "Pingguo" which is the Chinese word for the fruit, apple, and "Microsoft" is called "Wei ruan"  which means "micro" and "soft". However, the translation may also relate to or include other aspects of your branding or business activities.

On the other hand, a transliteration uses the Chinese language to create words that sound like the English/Latin trademark when spoken out loud. For example, Google uses "Gu Ge" in China, and McDonalds is "Maidanglao".

Trademarks can use a combination of translation and transliteration in various ways. An example of this is Starbucks who uses "Xing ba ke" where "Xing" means "Star" and "ba ke" is meant to sound like "bucks".

Sometimes translations or transliterations are not ideal, so choosing a completely new Chinese brand/trademark might be a better choice.

Q: Which dialect should I use- Mandarin or Cantonese?

A: There are numerous dialects in China but normally companies are deciding between Mandarin and Cantonese. The good news is that the written words will be understood by speakers of both languages although when spoken, each will sound differently. However, keep in mind that in places like Hong Kong and Taiwan, traditional characters are commonly used while much of mainland China uses the simplified characters.

With all that said, while both dialects may be considered and keeping in mind the issues related to the written and spoken words, if only choosing one dialect, I suggest determining what part of the country is of highest concern. If you'll be doing business in the South, Cantonese might be your best bet. Otherwise, given that Mandarin in primarily taught in schools and spoken in a large portion of the country, Mandarin will likely be your first choice.

Q: Who can help me choose a Chinese language trademark?

Marketing companies and IP firms can both assist in choosing a Chinese language trademark.

However, i suggest not just paying a marketing team to come up with an amazing Chinese brand. Instead, you need to make sure your choice is also available for registration. Otherwise you can waste a lot of time and money on a brand that cannot be protected, and being able to actually register your trademark is a critical aspect of building and controlling your brand.

Therefore, if using an outside marketing service provider, make sure you involve your China trademark attorney when exploring options so they can do a clearance search for all possible options and you can choose accordingly.

Kangxin has an online search tool that can also be helpful - contact me at and I can give you access to free searches online to help you see if others have already registered any marks you are considering.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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