How to navigate Trademark Protection in China’s Manufacturing Sector: The Critical Role of Contracts under the First-to-File System

In the fast-paced world of global manufacturing, the protection of intellectual property, especially trademarks, is a critical concern for businesses. This is particularly true in China, a leading manufacturing hub operating under a unique “first-to-file” trademark system. This system, while streamlined, presents specific challenges for manufacturers, especially those based overseas. In this environment, well-crafted contracts emerge as an indispensable tool for safeguarding trademarks.


China’s First-to-File System: Implications for Manufacturers

Under China’s first-to-file system, the first entity to file a trademark application is granted the rights to that trademark. This approach differs markedly from jurisdictions where trademark rights are established through use. For manufacturers, especially those relying on Chinese production for global distribution, this system can lead to scenarios where their trademarks are registered by others before they enter the Chinese market, a practice known as trademark squatting.


The Manufacturing Dilemma in the First-to-File Landscape

International manufacturers often discover too late that their trademarks have been registered by third parties in China. This situation can disrupt supply chains, lead to costly legal battles, and damage brand integrity. Proactive trademark protection through strategic contractual agreements is thus not just advisable but essential.

Remember that both private persons and companies can protect trademarks, patents etc. in China. You do not want to end up in a situation where your Chinese manufacturer themselves or through other middlemen protect your intellectual property while producing your products in China.


Contractual Strategies for Trademark Protection

1. Manufacturing and Supply Agreements

Manufacturing agreements with Chinese suppliers should include clauses that strictly define the use of trademarks. These agreements can ensure that the manufacturer retains control over their trademark and can limit the supplier’s ability to register or use the trademark without explicit consent.

2. Licensing Agreements for Production

Licensing agreements are particularly relevant when a manufacturer needs to authorize a Chinese factory to use its trademark during production. These agreements should clearly delineate the scope, duration, and specific conditions under which the trademark is to be used, providing legal clarity and control.

3. Distribution and Export Agreements

Manufacturers must include trademark protection clauses in their distribution and export agreements. These clauses can stipulate how the trademark is to be used in the distribution network and provide mechanisms for enforcement against unauthorized use or infringement.

4. Joint Venture and Collaboration Agreements

In joint ventures or collaborations involving manufacturing, it is crucial that contracts explicitly address the ownership, use, and protection of trademarks. This includes outlining the terms under which trademarks are used and shared within the venture and establishing clear protocols for protection and enforcement.


Legal and Contractual Considerations in the Manufacturing Context

Drafting effective contracts in China requires a deep understanding of both trademark and contract law. Manufacturers must ensure that their agreements are not only legally sound but also compliant with local regulations.

It’s important to choose jurisdiction in China to enhance enforceability, as the court in China seldom follow judges from foreign courts because of differences in laws. It is also essential to use a legally verified Chinese version of your contract to avoid unprecise translations from English and lower enforceability in the court in China, as contracts in other languages are translated into Chinese in the court in China.



In the manufacturing sector, the significance of contracts in protecting trademarks under China’s first-to-file system cannot be overstated. These agreements provide a necessary shield in a landscape where the race to register can have significant implications for business operations and brand integrity. For manufacturers navigating the complexities of the Chinese market, a robust contractual strategy is indispensable. Success in this domain hinges on a thorough understanding of the legal environment and the strategic use of contracts to ensure that trademark rights are not just established but also effectively enforced.



Q1: What is China’s first-to-file system for trademarks? A1: China’s first-to-file system grants trademark rights to the first entity that files an application for registration. Unlike systems where trademark rights are established through use, in China, the act of filing first is key to securing these rights.

Q2: Why is the first-to-file system challenging for international manufacturers? A2: International manufacturers often face challenges in China’s first-to-file system because they may find that their trademarks have already been registered by others (often in a practice known as trademark squatting) by the time they enter the Chinese market. This can disrupt supply chains and lead to legal complications.

Q3: How can manufacturing and supply agreements protect trademarks? A3: Manufacturing and supply agreements can include specific clauses that limit the use of trademarks to the scope agreed upon and prevent Chinese suppliers from registering or misusing the trademarks.

Q4: What is the role of licensing agreements in protecting trademarks in manufacturing? A4: Licensing agreements allow manufacturers to authorize Chinese factories to use their trademarks under clearly defined conditions, including the scope, duration, and manner of use, thereby maintaining control and legal clarity.

Q5: Why are distribution and export agreements important for trademark protection? A5: Distribution and export agreements can include trademark protection clauses that dictate how the trademark is used within the distribution network, providing a mechanism to prevent unauthorized use or infringement.

Q6: How do joint venture and collaboration agreements help in trademark protection? A6: In joint ventures or collaborations, it’s crucial to have contracts that clearly outline the terms of trademark ownership, usage, and protection, establishing protocols for safeguarding and enforcing these rights.

Q7: What are the key legal and contractual considerations for manufacturers in China? A7: Manufacturers must ensure that their contracts are legally sound, compliant with Chinese regulations, and registered with relevant authorities if necessary. This requires a deep understanding of both trademark and contract law in China.

Q8: Can a foreign manufacturer enforce their trademark rights if they are not the first to file in China? A8: Enforcing trademark rights as a foreign manufacturer who was not the first to file can be challenging and typically involves legal proceedings. In some cases, proving prior use or fame of the trademark may help, but success is not guaranteed. Proactive registration and contractual protection are usually more effective strategies.


Contact us if you need legal help in China, like drafting effective cease and desist letters, drafting contracts that follow Chinese law and are enforceable in China, background investigation of Chinese companies, protecting patents, trademarks, copyright, and verification of contracts to the law in China, help with trade and IP disputes in China, etc.

If you require our assistance or have further questions about our services, please do not hesitate to contact our Customer Relationship Manager, Jan Erik Christensen, at We look forward to hearing from you and helping your business succeed in China.

Contact us if you need help with drafting of contracts that follows Chinese laws and are enforceable in China, background investigation of Chinese companies, protecting patents, trademarks, verification of contracts to the law in China, or help with other legal challenges that you have in China.

If you require our assistance or have further questions about our services, please do not hesitate to contact our Customer Relationship Managers Jan Erik Christensen, at . We look forward to hearing from you and helping your business succeed in China.

This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace professional legal counsel. The information contained herein does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Reading this article does not establish an attorney-client relationship between the reader and the author or the author’s organization. Our website aim to provide general information for educational and communication purposes.