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Trademark registration is in most cases the only way Importers can protect their intellectual property. Without a registered trademark, your brand name and logo can be used by other businesses, both in China and in your own country.
Learn the following in this guide to trademark registration when importing from China:
How a trademark can protect your brand on Amazon.com
How a trademark can protect your products in China
Trademark registration fees and processing time
How to register trademarks online in the EU, US and globally (all by yourself)
Why you should not use an NDA as a substitute for a trademark registration
If you’re importing general consumer goods or private label products, the trademark is also the only IP you have.
Notice that the trademark does not protect your product design or inventions. That requires a patent, that can only be obtained for a new and unique product.
In other words, you can’t patent a watch or t-shirt, but you can get the brand name and logo registered.
3 Reasons why Importers should register trademarks
Registering a trademark is, as I mentioned, the only way for most ecommerce businesses to protect their IP. But there are a few other benefits you should be aware of.
1. It protects your brand name in your target markets
This means that no other business can use that brand and logo. At least not in your country.
As such, you can prevent other importers, or foreign companies, from selling replicas of your product, in the country where your trademark is registered.
2. It’s not that expensive to register a trademark
Trademark registration is relatively cheap. If you do it yourself, you only need to pay the filing fees:
United States: $275 to $325 per trademark
United Kingdom: From £170 per trademark
You will also need to pay a yearly renewal fee, but rarely more than $150.
However, the costs does add up if you intend to register trademarks in multiple countries.
If you do want to register a ‘global trademark’, you can do so via the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).
They cover more than 117 countries, including the following:
3. You can register as a brand on Amazon.com or Amazon in Europe
To register a brand on Amazon, you need to have a registered trademark. Without a trademark (application doesn’t count), you cannot register as a brand.
So, what are the benefits of enrolling in the Amazon Brand Registry? This is what they say on their website:
“Your enrollment in Amazon Brand Registry provides access to powerful tools including proprietary text and image search, predictive automation based on your reports of suspected intellectual property rights violations, and increased authority over product listings with your brand name.”
“Information whether your trademark is an EU trade mark or a national trade mark (and if the latter, in which country your trademark is registered); if your mark is registered both as an EU trademark and a national trademark in one or more EU member states, we only need the EU trade mark information.”
That said, it makes more to register an EU trademark than a national trademark.
Should I register the trademark in my country, or in China?
You should primarily register the trademark in your target markets. If you plan to sell your product in the United States, then you should register a trademark with the United States Patents and Trademarks Office (USPTO).
There are, however, some benefits to registering a trademark in the production country, for example China:
a. You can avoid the risk of trademark squatters, which register brands used in the other countries. They then use the trademark to seize the export shipment, as they are now using ‘your’ trademark. This is, however, rare for small and unknown brands.
b. You can start selling on Tmall and other Chinese marketplaces. This may seem far off now, but brands like Daniel Wellington are very successful in China.
If I’m selling in the United States, should I also register a trademark in the EU or other markets?
Yes, if you intend to start selling in other countries, you should also consider trademark registration in the same places.
You don’t need to open a local branch to register a trademark in, for example, the European Union. Instead, you can use your existing business entity to register trademarks in other countries.
The same logic applies to EU businesses looking to sell in the US, or an Australian company that want to the same thing.
How much does it cost?
As mentioned, the trademark registration fee is paid on a per country basis:
United States: $275 to $325 per trademark
United Kingdom: From £170 per trademark
European Union: €900
*Estimated based on current prices from the WIPO EU office
How long does the registration process take?
In the United States, you can expect an initial response within 3 months, but the application can take up to a whole year.
In the European Union, the process normally takes 6 to 9 months.
In other words, apply as soon as you can so you can start reaping the benefits.
Can I register a trademark online?
Yes, you can register a trademark using one of the following ‘self service’ online platforms:
United States www.uspto.gov
European Union: www.tmdn.org
United Kingdom: www.gov.uk/how-to-register-a-trade-mark
New Zealand: www.iponz.govt.nz
Hong Kong S.A.R: www.ipd.gov.hk
Do I need a lawyer or consultant to register a trademark?
No, you don’t need a lawyer or consultant to register your trademark. However, they can help you with the application, and manage the process with the authorities.
Most trademark consultants charge around $500 to help with this process.
Does trademarks also protect the design and utility of my product?
No, a registered trademark can only protect your brand name or logo. A trademark doesn’t protect your product design or utility.
The basic criteria are that the product is new, and unique. Hence, you cannot get a patent for a coffee press, wristwatch or any other product that is already invented.
Getting a patent is therefore not even an option for private label businesses.
Why can’t I just make my supplier sign a document that they will not copy my product?
I often receive emails from business owners that don’t want to go through the trademarking process, and believe that a statement from the supplier will somehow guarantee that their brand is protected.
There are no such shortcuts.
If you are serious about building a brand, you should register your brand and logo right away.
You can start with your target market, and then register your trademark in China, and other countries where you want to protect your brand.
The same thing applies to patents. An NDA, or other documents, signed by your supplier cannot protect your product.
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Co-founder of Asiaimportal (HK) Limited and based in Hong Kong. He has been quoted in and contributed to Bloomberg, SCMP, Alibaba Insights, Globalsources.com, China Chief Executive, Quartz Magazine and more.
Hey there, I’m Fredrik!
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