The Importance of Mastering China’s Trademark Subclass System

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Foreign companies entering the Chinese market often encounter challenges in navigating China’s intricate trademark subclass system. This complexity, combined with linguistic and cultural differences, leads to frequent misunderstandings. This article aims to dissect these complexities, spotlighting specific subclasses that are commonly confused and explaining the underlying reasons for these misunderstandings.


The Intricacies of China’s Trademark System

Managed by the China National Intellectual Property Administration (CNIPA), China’s trademark system involves dividing the 45 main classes of the Nice Classification into detailed subclasses. Proper identification of these subclasses is critical for comprehensive trademark protection.


Class 35: A Frequent Source of Misunderstanding

  • Subclass ‘广告服务’ (guǎnggào fúwù – advertising services) and ‘市场营销’ (shìchǎng yíngxiāo – market marketing) are often conflated. However, ‘广告服务’ refers more to the dissemination of advertising, while ‘市场营销’ is about the strategic process of promoting products.
  • ‘商业管理咨询’ (shāngyè guǎnlǐ zīxún – business management consulting) and ‘商务管理’ (shāngwù guǎnlǐ – commercial administration) are also frequently confused. The former is advisory in nature, while the latter involves the actual running of a business’s day-to-day operations.


Other Key Classes and Their Challenging Subclasses

  • Class 9 (Electronics): Distinctions between subclasses like ‘电脑软件’ (diànnǎo ruǎnjiàn – computer software) and ‘计算机编程’ (jìsuànjī biānchéng – computer programming) can be subtle but significant. One deals with the software product itself, while the other involves the process of creating that software.
  • Class 25 (Clothing): Here, subclasses such as ‘日常服装’ (rìcháng fúzhuāng – casual clothing) and ‘职业服装’ (zhíyè fúzhuāng – professional clothing) are often mixed up. The former refers to everyday wear, while the latter is specific to work-related attire.
  • Class 30 (Food Products): Confusion arises between subclasses like ‘烹饪调味品’ (pēngrèn tiáowèipǐn – cooking spices) and ‘食品调味料’ (shípǐn tiáowèiliào – food flavorings). Though similar, ‘烹饪调味品’ (pēngrèn tiáowèipǐn – cooking spices) is more about spices used in cooking, whereas ‘食品调味料’ (shípǐn tiáowèiliào – food flavorings) refers to flavorings used in food production.


Why These Confusions Occur

The main reasons for these subclass misunderstandings among foreign companies are rooted in linguistic differences and distinct market categorizations in China. These subclasses often do not have direct equivalents in Western markets, leading to potential misclassifications. Additionally, the nuanced nature of these categories requires an in-depth understanding of both the language and the specific market dynamics in China.


The Vital Role of Local Expertise

Navigating the complexities of China’s trademark system significantly benefits from the expertise of IP professionals specialized on China, because deep understanding of the legal nuances and knowledge of the Chinese trademark system in detail is crucial for foreign businesses. This is a precondition for accurately identify the relevant subclasses for trademark registration, ensuring comprehensive and precise protection.  Local knowledge is also invaluable in effectively managing and defending a company’s IP rights in the dynamic Chinese market.


The Shortcomings of International Registrations in China’s Trademark System

International trademark registrations often fall short when it comes to the nuanced requirements of China’s trademark subclass system. This issue primarily arises because international systems, such as the Madrid System for international registration of marks, generally operate on broader class categorizations. They may not delve into the detailed subclass level that is a defining characteristic of the Chinese system.

When foreign companies rely solely on these international registrations, they may inadvertently overlook specific subclasses that are critical for their business. For instance, a company might register a product under a general class without realizing that protection in China requires registration in several more narrowly defined subclasses within that class. This oversight can leave significant portions of their business unprotected.

The consequences of such gaps in trademark protection can be severe. In the competitive landscape of the Chinese market, local competitors might legally capitalize on these unprotected areas, leading to loss of market share and revenue for the foreign company. Furthermore, if a competitor registers a similar or identical trademark in these unclaimed subclasses first, the original trademark holder might face legal challenges in asserting their rights due to China’s ‘first-to-file’ system.



Understanding the subclasses in China’s trademark system, for example in classes like 35, 9, 25, and 30, is essential for foreign companies aiming to safeguard their intellectual property. Direct registration in China, guided by local professionals’ expertise, is crucial for navigating this complex system and ensuring comprehensive trademark protection.



  1. What makes China’s trademark system unique for foreign companies? China’s trademark system is unique due to its detailed subclassification within the main 45 classes of the Nice Classification. This system requires precise categorization and is often more complex than trademark systems in other countries.
  2. Why do foreign companies often misunderstand China’s trademark subclasses? Misunderstandings typically stem from linguistic barriers and differences in market categorization. The Chinese subclass system often does not align directly with Western market definitions, leading to potential misregistrations.
  3. Can you provide examples of commonly confused subclasses in Class 35?
    • ‘广告服务’ (guǎnggào fúwù – advertising services) and ‘市场营销’ (shìchǎng yíngxiāo – market marketing) are often confused. The former refers to the dissemination of ads, while the latter involves the strategic promotion of products.
    • ‘商业管理咨询’ (shāngyè guǎnlǐ zīxún – business management consulting) and ‘商务管理’ (shāngwù guǎnlǐ – commercial administration) are also frequently mixed up. The former is advisory, while the latter pertains to day-to-day business operations.
  4. What are some challenging subclasses in Class 9 (Electronics)?
    • ‘电脑软件’ (diànnǎo ruǎnjiàn – computer software) and ‘计算机编程’ (jìsuànjī biānchéng – computer programming) can be difficult to differentiate. One deals with the software product, and the other with the creation of software.
  5. Are there confusing subclasses in Class 25 (Clothing)?
    • Yes, subclasses like ‘日常服装’ (rìcháng fúzhuāng – casual clothing) and ‘职业服装’ (zhíyè fúzhuāng – professional clothing) are often mistaken. The former is for everyday wear, while the latter is specific to work-related attire.
  6. What subclass confusions occur in Class 30 (Food Products)?
    • Subclasses such as ‘烹饪调味品’ (pēngrèn tiáowèipǐn – cooking spices) and ‘食品调味料’ (shípǐn tiáowèiliào – food flavorings) are commonly confused. They refer to spices for cooking and flavorings for food production, respectively.
  7. Why is local expertise important in navigating China’s trademark system? Local expertise is crucial due to the complex nature of the subclass system and the specific legal and market contexts in China. Local IP professionals can provide invaluable guidance in selecting the most appropriate subclasses.
  8. What are the limitations of relying on international trademark registrations in China? International trademark registrations may not cover the specific needs of China’s subclass system, potentially leaving gaps in protection and exposing brands to legal and competitive challenges.
  9. How essential is it for foreign companies to directly register trademarks in China? Direct registration in China is essential for comprehensive protection. It ensures that trademarks are correctly classified within the specific subclass system, which is critical for safeguarding intellectual property in the Chinese market.


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