Does China use a “first-to-use” approach for trademark registration?


Trademark registration is essential for businesses to protect their brand identity and intellectual property. Each country has its own approach to trademark registration, and understanding these differences is crucial for businesses operating in multiple jurisdictions. This article examines whether China uses a “first-to-use” approach for trademark registration and provides insight into the benefits and challenges of their system.


Understanding Trademark Registration

Trademark Basics

A trademark is a recognizable sign, design, or expression that identifies a product or service as originating from a specific source. It serves to distinguish a brand from its competitors and helps prevent consumer confusion. Trademarks can include logos, slogans, and even distinctive product packaging.

First-to-File vs. First-to-Use

There are two main principles for trademark registration: the first-to-file system and the first-to-use system. The first-to-file approach awards trademark rights to the party who first files a trademark application, while the first-to-use approach grants rights to the party who first uses the trademark in commerce. The choice between these two systems varies by jurisdiction.


China’s Trademark Registration System

Overview of the Chinese System

China has adopted a first-to-file system for trademark registration. This means that trademark rights are awarded to the first party who files an application, regardless of whether they have previously used the trademark in commerce. This is in contrast to countries like the United States, which follow a first-to-use approach.

First-to-File Principle in China

Under China’s first-to-file principle, it is crucial for businesses to register their trademarks as early as possible to secure exclusive rights. Failing to do so can result in other parties registering the same or similar trademarks, leading to disputes and loss of brand identity.


Benefits and Challenges of China’s First-to-File Approach

Advantages of the First-to-File System

China’s first-to-file approach provides several benefits. The system simplifies registration by eliminating the need to prove prior use, making it more accessible to businesses. It also provides clarity and certainty for businesses, as they can be confident that registration secures their rights.

Potential Drawbacks and Concerns

However, the first-to-file system can also create challenges. It can encourage trademark squatting, where parties register trademarks without intending to use them in commerce, hoping to sell the rights to the original brand owners at a profit. Additionally, if disputes arise, businesses may face difficulties proving their prior use and reputation, as the first-to-file approach focuses on the registration date rather than actual usage.


Protecting Your Trademark in China

Registration Process

To protect your trademark in China, it is essential to register it as early as possible. The registration process typically involves the following steps:

  1. Conduct a trademark search to ensure that your desired trademark is not already registered or pending registration.
  2. File a trademark application, including the necessary documentation and fees. It is recommended to do this in China because you can get more product and service classes (sub-classes) covered when you make a local application and not a limited international application which is very limited in protection.
  3. Await examination and potential opposition from third parties.
  4. Your trademark will be registered and published in the official gazette if approved.

Tips for a Successful Trademark Application

To improve the likelihood of a successful trademark application in China, consider the following tips:

  1. Register your trademark as early as possible to secure your rights.
  2. Ensure that your trademark is distinctive and not easily confused with existing trademarks.
  3. Provide accurate and comprehensive documentation to support your application.
  4. Monitor the application process and respond promptly to any queries or oppositions.

Dealing with Trademark Infringement

If you suspect trademark infringement in China, it is crucial to take action quickly. You can file a complaint with the relevant administrative authorities or initiate legal proceedings in court. The available remedies include injunctions, damages, and destruction of infringing goods.



In summary, China follows a first-to-file trademark registration approach, which has advantages and challenges. It is essential for businesses operating in China to understand this system and take appropriate steps to protect their trademarks. By registering your trademark early, monitoring its use, and dealing with infringement proactively, you can maintain your brand identity and safeguard your intellectual property in the Chinese market.


Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Does China use a “first-to-use” approach for trademark registration? No, China follows a “first-to-file” approach for trademark registration, granting rights to the party who first files an application.
  2. What are the benefits of the first-to-file approach in China? The first-to-file system simplifies the registration process, eliminates the need to prove prior use, and provides clarity and certainty for businesses.
  3. What challenges can arise from China’s first-to-file trademark system? The first-to-file system can encourage trademark squatting, making it difficult for businesses to prove their prior use and reputation in disputes.
  4. How can I protect my trademark in China? Register your trademark as early as possible and monitor its use to deal with potential infringements.
  5. What remedies are available for trademark infringement in China? Remedies for trademark infringement include injunctions, damages, and destruction of infringing goods.


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