When westerns and international companies think about international trade, English is of course perceived as the global tool to jump language barriers all over the world. It helps us to ease international relations and commerce enabling access to new markets.

However, is that assumption truly applicable to China and Chinese market? Is it really that simple?

According to the "World Population Prospects: The 2017 Revision" work published by United Nations, the People's Republic of China (PRC) population reached 1.404 million people in 2017. Moreover, China has not-so-long turned into the second world's economy and its international influence is undeniable, especially in continents such Asia or Africa.      

Nevertheless, while over 1.000 million people in China speak Mandarin it seems that no more than 50 million actually speak English. Even though figures of English learners in China rise up to 300 million, most statistics about English actual speakers in the country point out that figure of 50 million, which is less than 3% of the population.

Despite these numbers, many foreign companies are still too used to the "global language" that do not realize English language is not the best approach to target most of Chinese consumers and often wonder whether it is necessary or useful from a marketing perspective to use their trademarks in Chinese language.

Well, considering what said above, brand owners should be reminded of the importance of having a trademark in Chinese language protected in China. It can be helpful not only for those Chinese consumers that do not speak and read the Latin alphabet fluently, but for any consumer. And at the same time, it will help to protect and reinforce the strength of the trademark and brand awareness in the market.

But, if translating and protecting your trademark in Chinese characters is really that important, a comprehensive analysis could not avoid wondering: what usually happens to those who decide NOT to do it?

1. The most common scenario when a foreign trademark is not translated (and protected) into Chinese and is publicly used by the owner in China is that Chinese consumers make their own translation of the trademark and refer to it in Chinese. 

And we see that if the foreign company does not have an "official" translation and does not make a certain promotion of the trademark in Chinese, consumers will develop their own Chinese trademark and will use this to refer to the company and products.

2. Moreover, when a brand owner does not develop a Chinese trademark and the translation is done by consumers on their own, it might be the case that different Chinese trademarks are developed by different groups of consumers diluting the strength of the trademark.

3. Additionally (and significantly more threatening for foreign brand owners), when a foreign trademark is not translated and protected in Chinese, we usually see Chinese companies who take advantage of the situation and file an application to register the translation in Chinese of that trademark under their own name.

This will be likely to cause serious troubles in the development of the Chinese market by the foreign who did not protect the translation of his trademark in Chinese from all points of views.

4. Thus, the Chinese company who registered the Chinese trademark may start supplying the market with identical products to the ones commercialized by the foreign company using the trademark in Chinese and that may mislead consumers about the origin of the goods. Like we said, the general public in China may link the Chinese trademark to the foreign company and its goods, when in this case, they would be not related.

For all these reasons, brand owners in general and foreign companies in particular need to carefully assess the relevancy of having their trademark translated into Chinese and the impact of not doing.

Thus, in order to prevent those situations from happening they must protect the distinctive signs used to identify their brands as a trademark as soon as possible. Otherwise, they will face the risk that a third party will do so first.

If that happens it may be necessary to put in motion uneasy legal procedures to retrieve the rights to exclusively use such specific trademark from that third party.

To carry out the translation of a trademark into Chinese there are a variety of different options, such as a meaning-based translation, a sound-based translation (transliteration), a combination of both, and even something entirely unrelated to the English. Understanding the basic concepts of Chinese language can help to develop an effective translation of foreign trademarks.

Nevertheless, local advice is highly recommended to avoid risks, such as selecting Chinese characters with an unsuitable or inappropriate meaning for the brand, which can be a source of embarrassment or diminish market perception.

In summary, by considering the perception of their brand in the Chinese market via an adequate Chinese translation, brand owners will not only ensure that they retain control over their brand narrative and prevent damage or dilution of their brands, but also will gain legal protection over their trademarks and secure a more peaceful development of the market in China.

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.