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How can I best protect my brand in the Chinese market?

News and Notes Focused on the 3 Public Faces of IP Law

  • Brand Image Protection - Trademark Law
  • Visual Image Protection - Copyright Law
  • Personal Image Protection - Right of Publicity Law

The Image Protection Law blog has been created in order to share stories and information on the legal aspects of: 1) the marketplace reputation of a company or product captured in its trademark, 2) published or publicly-displayed artwork, photography, and any created visual design, and 3) use of a person's photograph or likeness for product promotion or other commercial purposes.

The "IP3" share at least one thing in common: Image is everything. In these posts let's look at what that means in the realm of intellectual property in the news, but let's also be prepared to explore if there's something more beyond "everything." Don't forget, the intellectual in "intellectual property" doesn't mean smart or brainy, although by nature true creators often are. The word is used to refer to any creation, i.e., a "product of the mind." While this blog will be regularly updated, you are encouraged to share your thoughts on these posts.

San Francisco creatives, whether they are artists or forward-thinking business people, know globalization is not a passing fancy. Money-making opportunities abound in markets other than the United States, but taking advantage of them requires extreme due diligence to protect your interests. Without proper care, something could get lost in translation, literally, with harsh financial consequences.

Protecting intellectual property through proper trademark registration is a crucial step that takes on a new dynamic when the objective is to expand beyond U.S. borders. China is one of the most attractive areas for realizing growth, but the communist nation suffers from a bad reputation when it comes to protecting IP rights of foreign entities.

Evading trademark squatting

Recent comments from Chinese leaders suggest they know this is a problem, but until actual policies and laws catch up with the rhetoric, experts agree that U.S. businesses do well to follow an IP protection strategy that is broad in scope.

It's not enough simply to duplicate your U.S. trademark registration in China. The complexities of the culture and the language make it necessary to cast a wide net and to be the first one to take action. Failure to be first to file all trademarks that may be used there means that savvy Chinese players could snatch up the marks most meaningful to Chinese consumers, sometimes resulting in exorbitant buyout demands.

The importance of transliteration

One of the trickiest aspects of Chinese trademarks is the nuance of how a brand or trademark name sounds, not just how it is written. This is something that famed basketball legend Michael Jordan learned the hard way. Before he moved to spread his name in China, another company was first to trademark the most recognizable transliteration of Jordan's name, creating Qiaodan (chee-ow dahn) Sports. Jordan's organization got things sorted out, but only after a number of court battles and a lot of time.

Transliteration isn't the only thing to worry about. There's the literal translation of your brand name that needs a trademark too. And if your name isn't translatable at all, you might do well to come up with a separate name that best conveys your product's concept. It might even require coming up with a name that combines transliteration, literal translation and an adaptation.

What's clear is that it's all about covering the bases.

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