The Customs Record Filing System in China: A Powerful Instrument for IP Protection in a First-to-File Jurisdiction

Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) have become a cornerstone of the global economy, where innovation is often the key to gaining a competitive edge. In the context of China, a country that has undergone remarkable economic transformation, the importance of IPR is magnified due to its status as a hub for manufacturing and technological innovation. As such, businesses operating within and beyond China’s borders must take proactive steps to protect their intellectual creations, making the most of the systems in place, particularly the first-to-file system.


The First-to-File System in China

Unlike some other jurisdictions that operate on a “first-to-use” or “first-to-invent” basis, China’s IPR protection regime is predicated on a “first-to-file” system. This system gives priority to the entity that first files for a patent or trademark, rather than the entity that first uses the intellectual property in commerce. In practical terms, the first-to-file system mandates that the right to obtain a patent for an invention goes to the first person to file an application for the said invention, provided that the applicant fulfills all required conditions. This system underscores the urgency and importance for businesses to file their IP applications promptly.


Understanding the Implications of the First-to-File System

The first to file system carries several implications. It means that if two parties develop the same invention independently, the right to the patent will go to the party that files first, regardless of the date of actual invention. This often results in a race to the patent office, which in turn can lead to an increase in the number of applications filed, sometimes even premature filings to beat competitors to the punch.


Strategic Filing and the Role of Customs in China

To navigate this system effectively, companies must adopt strategic filing practices, ensuring that their innovations and creations are protected as early as possible. In addition to filing with the China National Intellectual Property Administration (CNIPA), it is equally important to engage in customs record filing. This is a critical step that can safeguard against the unauthorized export and import of counterfeit goods.

The customs record filing system in China allows businesses to register their intellectual property with customs authorities, granting them the right to inspect and detain shipments that may contain infringing goods. This system is particularly important given China’s expansive manufacturing and export activities. By recording their IP with customs, businesses create an additional layer of defense, one that is capable of responding rapidly to potential infringements at the border.


The Mechanism of Customs Record Filing

The procedure for customs record filing is methodical and offers businesses substantial benefits. After an IP right has been granted by CNIPA, the owner has the opportunity to record this right with China Customs. This recording is valid for ten years and can be renewed accordingly, aligning with the term of protection offered by the patent or trademark. Once a recordation is made, customs officials have the authority to check incoming and outgoing shipments for potential IPR violations. This is a significant deterrent to counterfeiters and can be a valuable tool for IP rights holders.


The Importance of Timing and Awareness

One of the crucial aspects of benefiting from customs record filing is timing. Businesses must submit the necessary documentation within three days of receiving confirmation from China Customs. This quick turnaround can be challenging, particularly for foreign entities unfamiliar with the Chinese IPR landscape. Moreover, there is a need for heightened awareness among multinational companies about the benefits of customs record filing. Some companies may not engage in the process due to misconceptions, lack of knowledge, or perceived financial barriers. However, the cost of not securing one’s IP through this system can be far greater, considering the potential market losses and damage to brand reputation that can arise from counterfeit goods.


Collaboration for Enhanced Protection

In addition to individual efforts, collaboration between businesses and Chinese customs authorities is paramount. Sharing information, such as details of genuine products, typical routes of counterfeiters, and other intelligence, can significantly enhance the effectiveness of customs enforcement. Moreover, working closely with legal entities ensures that any actions taken against counterfeiters are swift and within the scope of the law.


The Evolving IPR Landscape and E-commerce

China’s IPR framework has made significant advances in recent years, with the government introducing stricter laws and regulations to combat infringement. These changes have not only increased the responsibilities of Chinese Customs but have also impacted the burgeoning e-commerce sector. As online platforms have become hotspots for the sale of counterfeit goods, cooperation between IPR holders, customs authorities, and e-commerce platforms is crucial to effectively address this challenge.



In summary, the customs record filing system in China is a powerful instrument for IPR protection in a first to file jurisdiction. Businesses must prioritize the registration of their IP and understand the intricacies of the Chinese system to navigate the market successfully. With the right approach and the utilization of available mechanisms, companies can protect their innovations and maintain the integrity of their brands against the ever-present threat of intellectual property infringement.



What is the first to file system in China? The first to file system in China is a principle that grants the right to a patent or trademark to the first individual or entity that files an application, regardless of who first used or invented the subject matter in question. This system prioritizes the act of filing over the act of invention or usage.

How does China’s first to file system affect businesses? China’s first to file system affects businesses by creating a race to the patent office. This requires companies to file for protection of their intellectual property as soon as possible to secure their rights, as any delay could result in losing the IP to another party who files first.

What is customs record filing in China? Customs record filing in China is a procedure that allows intellectual property owners to register their rights with Chinese Customs. This enables customs officials to monitor, detain, and take action against the import or export of counterfeit goods that infringe on the registered intellectual property.

How long is the validity period for customs record filing in China? The validity period for customs record filing in China is ten years, which can be renewed accordingly. This period is intended to align with the term of protection offered by the underlying patent or trademark.

Why is timing important in customs record filing? Timing is critical in customs record filing because businesses are required to submit the necessary documentation within three days of receiving confirmation from China Customs. This swift action ensures that their intellectual property rights are enforced without delay.

Why might some companies not participate in customs record filing? Some companies might not participate in customs record filing due to a lack of awareness, misconceptions about the process, financial constraints, or underestimation of the risks associated with intellectual property infringement.

What are the benefits of collaborating with Chinese customs authorities? Collaborating with Chinese customs authorities can enhance IPR protection through information sharing and legal collaboration. This partnership can lead to more effective identification of counterfeit goods and swift legal action against infringers.

How have recent legal strides in China affected IPR protection? Recent legal strides in China have strengthened IPR protection by introducing stricter laws and regulations, empowering Chinese Customs with greater oversight capabilities, and fostering cooperation between customs, businesses, and e-commerce platforms to combat infringement more effectively.

What role do e-commerce platforms play in IPR protection? E-commerce platforms play a crucial role in IPR protection by working with IP rights holders and customs authorities to prevent the sale of counterfeit goods online. This includes measures such as proactive monitoring, takedown procedures, and information sharing to identify and stop IPR infringement.

How can companies protect their intellectual properties in China? Companies can protect their intellectual properties in China by promptly filing for patents or trademarks, engaging in customs record filing, actively collaborating with customs authorities, and maintaining vigilance in the e-commerce space to combat infringement.


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 companiesprotecting 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  or Milla Chen, at We look forward to hearing from you and helping your business succeed in China.