U.S. Exporter Assistance
Going to China? Trademark Your Intellectual Property Now!
By Kevin Latner
See also . . .
FAS Report CH7023
rapid growth in production, income, and spending has
spurred commensurate growth in demand for foods and
other products. The expanding numbers of middle- and
upper middle-class consumers are increasingly interested
in food quality and safety, and U.S. food products are
considered to fill the bill. For example, U.S. pork,
California grapes, Sunkist oranges, Washington apples,
and Northwest pears on Chinese supermarkets shelves
account for part of the more than $7.6 billion in U.S.
agricultural, fish, and forest product exports to China
in fiscal 2006.
despite the market’s robust growth and potential for
more, by some accounts, U.S. producers lost more than
$84 billion last year from intellectual property rights
infringements in China. Automobiles, sports equipment,
drugs, foods and other agricultural products have all
suffered. The more a product is recognized as a quality
product, the more likely it is to be counterfeited and
sold in the domestic market and in other countries —
even re-exported to the United States.
China is rapidly developing the tools necessary for you
to protect your intellectual property, however. A very
small investment of time and money can yield large
dividends and future protection.
an item is recognized as a quality product, the more
likely it is to be counterfeited and sold in China or
exported to other countries, even the United States.
quality U.S. food products often make it to store
shelves, an estimated 20-30 percent of products are
counterfeit. "Top Ten" canned tomatoes that look very
similar to Del Monte’s brand, lemons labeled "Sunkist
Valencia," or nuts identified as "California pistachios"
on what are clearly imitations from China or third
countries compromise brand value and diminish profit.
The Wisconsin Ginseng Board reports their growers have
lost over $1 billion dollars in China over the last 10
years as a result of counterfeit products.
companies that have established themselves in China
include protecting their intellectual property as an
integral part of the cost of doing business. This means
registering your patent, copyright, or trademark, and
ensuring you understand and use the progressive
enforcement mechanisms available in China to stop
small investment of time and money can yield large
dividends and protection.
step in protecting intellectual property is to trademark
your logo or brand name. While there can be some
pitfalls related to registration, it is a relatively
easy process. Basic trademark registration requires an
application, six copies of the trademark, and a power of
attorney authorizing a trademark registration agent to
submit the application on your behalf. Geographical
indications and collective and certification trademarks
are special or unique cases with special solutions.
can arise if your trademark has already been registered
in China by unscrupulous actors or squatter. Squatting
was a common practice in the early days of Internet
domain name registration where registration is first to
file. China is a "first to file" trademark registration
country: whatever party first registers a trademark has
the right to use it, whether or not that party
originated the trademark. U.S. firms accustomed to
operating in the United States, which is a "first to
use" country, can be caught off guard.
In response to these intellectual property
threats, FAS established the IPR
(Intellectual Property Rights) Office in the
Agricultural Trade Office, Beijing, China.
The IPR Office provides intellectual
property protection assistance to U.S.
cooperators, agricultural companies, and
interests entering or already established in
the Chinese market.
For more information on how the IPR Office
can assist you, visit:
or contact LaVerne E. Brabant, Mark Petry,
or Yuanchuan Liang, E-mail:
Prevention is the best solution to squatting, so
registering a product early in China, and perhaps in
most markets, is critical. The alternatives, such as
litigation or having to purchase the trademark you
created, can be costly.
Registration requirements are straightforward.
Professional intellectual property rights attorneys or
trademark registration agencies can do a basic
registration, including a search for prior
registrations, document preparation, and submission, for
under $500. This is a one trademark per classification
cost: when your product crosses classification
boundaries, the cost increases. Because U.S. and Chinese
classification systems differ, having an intellectual
property rights specialist help classify your product is
key. Also make sure you — not your agent — are
identified as the applicant. Get started as early as
possible since registration often takes two to three
are registered, your protection is extensive. Whether it
is at the shores of the United States or China, you can
request that appropriate officials seize any counterfeit
product based on your certification the product is
counterfeit and a citation to the China Trademark
Offices Internet website, where your registration is
located. China's increasingly large infrastructure of
piracy police is developing into a significant force to
deal with counterfeiting challenges, and once your
product is registered, you have the right to focus their
attention on the protection of your intellectual
Latner established the FAS China IPR Office and is now
director of the FAS Agricultural Trade Office in
Chengdu, China. E-mail: