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Rapid Growth in Trademarks in China

China’s economic development strategy has entered a new normal – innovation lies at its heart. Brands represent a link between innovation and the market and play an important role in stimulating innovation, boosting quality, efficiency and competitiveness. So trademark and brand strategies will be an increasingly important driver of economic development in China.

Because of its huge size and potential, the Chinese market will continue to attract foreign investors, and an increasing number of Chinese enterprises will go global, fuelling demand for international trademark rights.

Today’s Chinese trademark sector looks significantly different from how it did just four years ago. Back then, trademarks filed by Chinese applicants outside of mainland China to foreign registers were few and far between, and a relatively modest level of growth saw China ranked 10th in the world, behind the likes of the USA, Germany, UK, Italy and France. This pales in comparison to the likes of last year, which saw China file nearly 120,000 foreign trademark applications. In fact, the number of foreign applications has nearly doubled in the last 24 months, and there are no signs of this slowing down. There also used to be more geographic limitations on foreign trademark applications, with Chinese brands focusing more on areas in South East Asia. But this is no longer the case, and the US is a particularly large focus nowadays. North America is now the major market for Chinese brands, and the number of trademark applications filed in the region has grown at an incredible scale, from just 6,200 in 2014 to over 50,000 in 2017.

This growth is not limited to the US market, however. The volume of applications from China increased by over 40% in 2017 compared with 2016 on several major registers, including the US (+61%), Europe (+55%), Japan (+73%), United Kingdom (+122%), Australia (+139%) and Canada (+49%).

 Domestic dominance

China has the largest domestic trademark register in the world. In 2017, over 5.2 million applications were filed, a figure which makes it around 10 times the size of the world’s second largest register, the USA. To look in more detail: in the first week of September 2017 alone, more than 116,000 applications were filed on the Chinese register – a number that exceeds the number of trademarks filed with the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) in the whole of 2016.

This dominance in the world of trademarks is nothing new. China has built a reputation as a country that sees more annual trademark applications than any other register in the world. In fact, it’s been doing it for over 20 years. It’s a market that is also hugely attractive to international brands due to its 1.4 billion consumers. Interestingly, despite mainland China being home to under 19% of the world’s population, the Chinese trademark register is responsible for over 50% of all global trademark applications. And this figure is one that continues to grow.

Conclusion

The influence of China within the wider trademark world cannot be underestimated. It has grown from a minnow into one of the biggest fish in the pond, and it seems like it won’t be long before it moves into first place.

With 1.4 billion consumers and counting, China’s dominance should not be completely surprising, and its domestic trademark register has always shown strength. However, as heads turn increasingly towards foreign shores, Chinese brands must think hard about how they can overcome the challenges posed by different trademark registers around the world, while simultaneously protecting and enforcing their brand once it is registered.

The last four years have played host to significant change, and we can expect the same to be true for the next four. We are in the midst of a new era in the trademark world, and it’s an incredibly interesting time.

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