Guidance

IP in China

Information to help you protect, manage and enforce your intellectual property (IP) rights in China.

This page provides practical information to help you make the most of your IP when doing business in China. 

Please note that the page relates to mainland China only; Hong Kong has a separate IP system.

The China IP Attaché team based in Beijing and Shanghai is also available to support UK businesses in navigating the Chinese system.

The China National Intellectual Property Administration (CNIPA) is the authority for IP rights including patents, designs, trade marks and geographic indications.

The National Copyright Administration of China (NCAC) is the authority for copyright.

Trade marks

The Chinese trade mark system is similar to the UK’s. Trade marks protect symbols, colours or other devices used to identify a business’ products or services. A trade mark is valid for ten years, then may be renewed indefinitely for further ten-year periods.

To protect a trade mark in China you have two options:

  1. Apply yourself or through a representative (e.g. a trade mark agent) directly to the CNIPA. On average it takes 7-8 months for a trade mark to be granted.
  2. Make an international trade mark application and select China as a designated country. This can reduce the cost and effort of applying for trade marks in multiple countries, but will take longer than applying direct to CNIPA. More information on international trade mark can be found in the protecting your trade mark abroad page.

Good to know

You will need to consider whether to register in Chinese characters and pinyin (the Romanised alphabet).

China has a systemic problem with ‘bad-faith’ trade marks – see the relevant factsheet in the ‘More Information’ section for further support.

Patents

Like in the UK, patents for inventions can be protected for up to 20 years in China. China also provides protection for utility models (for up to 10 years) and design patents (for up to 15 years). Utility models are sometimes called “mini-patents” and require a lower level of inventiveness. Design patents protect the look of a products and are much like the UK’s registered design rights. All patent rights in China are subject to the payment of annual fees after they’ve been granted.

To protect your innovation with a patent in China you have two options:

  1. Apply yourself, or (recommended) through a representative (e.g. a patent agent), directly to the CNIPA.
  2. For inventions and utility models, you can also apply under the terms of the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), which is usually easier and quicker.

Good to know

China operates a ‘first to file’ principle. If two people apply for a patent on an identical invention, the first one to file the application will be awarded the patent. Ensure that your patent application is translated accurately into Chinese when filing in China. Submission of faulty translations could make it harder to get your patent granted or enforce it in the future.

China allows you to apply for both invention and utility model patents for the same invention. You might want to consider filing an invention patent and a utility model patent simultaneously for the same subject matter. Utility models are cheaper to apply for and often quicker to get granted.

Designs

Designs are covered by the Chinese Patent Law with protection for a maximum of 15 years.

To protect the appearance, shape or configuration of your product, you can apply for a design patent yourself, or (recommended) through a representative (e.g. a patent agent), directly to the CNIPA.

Good to know

As of 1 June 2021, China has introduced partial design protection though until the change is fully implemented applications can only be made in paper form or offline.

China’s copyright framework provides all of the basic protections required by international law. Copyright owners do get automatic protection through Chinese law. However, it is recommended that copyrighted work is filed (known as ‘copyright recordal’) at the Copyright Protection Centre of China for a fee. Copyright recordal is voluntary but helps to provide evidence of copyright ownership before a court or relevant enforcement authority.

Good to know

For software, parts of source code may be redacted (obscured) in the copyright recordal to protect trade secrets.

Enforcing your rights

The main options for enforcing your IP rights in China include administrative action, customs seizure and civil litigation. The State may prosecute offenders under the Criminal Law for several types of severe infringement.

Administrative action - the first step is to file a complaint with the local office of the appropriate administrative organisation. Trade mark and counterfeiting cases are often straightforward, especially where the infringement itself is unambiguous. For those involving patents and copyrights, however, the administrative authorities’ enforcement powers are less clear-cut. You will also need to collect evidence in order to trigger a raid.

Civil litigation - an action may be started in a local court. There are several advantages to this, including the deterrent effect of a high-profile court case and the potential for the award of damages. However, civil cases usually mean a longer timescale and greater bureaucracy.

The customs system in China is unusual for its ability to intercept fakes on export as well as import. China Customs relies on the intelligence it receives about illegal shipments. You can help them by pre-filing recordal of your IP rights with Customs, and passing on the names of known counterfeiters, routes and the details of genuine goods.

More information

The IPO provides more specific information on registering and protecting your IP in China.

Visit the exporting to China pages for more information about doing business in China.

The China Britain Business Council (CBBC) offers intellectual property protection advice, enforcement support and access to IP professionals, to businesses entering and growing in the China market.

Published 20 August 2021