The Importance of Software Copyright Certification in China: A Race Against Time

China’s rapid technological advancements over the past few decades have cast it into the global limelight as a tech titan. Parallel to this growth has been an equally significant development in the country’s intellectual property (IP) landscape. Central to this transformation is the “first to file” system, which underscores the critical importance of software copyright certification. With intellectual property theft becoming increasingly common, the rush to secure software copyrights has never been more pressing.


1. The “First to File” System: An Overview

Distinct from the “first to invent” or “first to use” systems familiar in many other jurisdictions, China’s “first to file” system awards intellectual property rights to the first individual or entity to successfully file a registration, irrespective of who originally created the software. This prioritization has significant implications:

Opportunity for Misuse: In the absence of early registration, it’s possible for someone other than the original creator to file for and obtain the copyright. Such cases have led to costly and time-consuming legal battles for rightful owners.

Immediacy is Key: The nature of this system stresses the urgency of seeking copyright protection as soon as the software is developed. Procrastination can result in losing the rights to one’s creation.


2. Why Speedy Software Copyright Certification Matters

a. Stronger Legal Standing: While holding a copyright certificate doesn’t guarantee immunity from infringements, it undoubtedly offers a fortified position in any legal disputes that may arise.

b. Deterrence: A speedy registration can act as a deterrent for potential infringers. When a software is officially certified, it sends a message about the creator’s seriousness in defending their rights.

c. Market Trust: In a market flooded with software products, certification provides an assurance of authenticity. This can play a pivotal role in boosting consumer trust and enhancing the product’s marketability.


3. Evolving IP Norms in China

China’s dedication to fortifying its intellectual property framework has been evident in its consistent legal reforms. By refining its patent, trademark, and copyright laws, China is looking to safeguard domestic innovations and provide a conducive environment for international entities. As the system has improved, it is also important to foreign companies doing use this system and protect themselves. This is especially true because so the first-to-file system. You do not want to end up in a situation where others protect your copyright, patents and trademarks in China before you do it.


4. Global Implications and the Need for Vigilance

For international software companies with an eye on the Chinese market, the “first to file” system can be both an opportunity and a challenge. While it ensures protection for those who act swiftly, it can be a potential minefield for those unfamiliar with the urgency required.

China’s adherence to international IP treaties provides a safety net. Yet, awareness of the local IP climate, particularly the immediacy of the “first to file” system, remains indispensable for any foreign entity looking to navigate the Chinese software landscape.



In the grand tapestry of China’s technological ascent, software copyright certification stands out as a critical thread. The “first to file” system accentuates the need for speed, urging creators to act swiftly. In a race against time, those who understand the stakes and move promptly are the ones who will secure their creations and reap the rewards.



Q1. What is the “first to file” system?

Answer: The “first to file” system in China awards intellectual property rights to the first individual or entity that successfully files a registration, regardless of the original creator. This is in contrast to the “first to invent” system found in other jurisdictions.

Q2. Is software copyright registration mandatory in China?

Answer: No, registration is not mandatory to establish copyright in China. However, given the “first to file” system and the benefits of having a certificate, it is highly recommended to register promptly.

Q3. How does the “first to file” system affect foreign entities?

Answer: Foreign software developers looking to penetrate or operate in the Chinese market must be vigilant. They should prioritize registering their copyrights as soon as possible to prevent potential misuse and to ensure they retain their rights in the Chinese jurisdiction.

Q4. What is the National Copyright Administration of China (NCAC) role?

Answer: The NCAC is responsible for the administration of software copyright registration in China. It provides the official certification, proving the software’s originality and the copyright holder’s rights.

Q5. How long does it take to obtain software copyright certification in China?

Answer: While the duration can vary depending on the specifics of each case, generally, it takes a few months from submitting all required documents to issuing the software copyright certificate.

Q6. Can the “first to file” system be used to protect other forms of intellectual property, like trademarks?

Answer: Yes, the “first to file” principle is also applied to other intellectual property rights in China, including trademarks. This emphasizes the need for entities to act swiftly in registering their IP assets in China.

Q7. How can foreign entities ensure they’re adequately protected under the “first to file” system?

Answer: They should consider working with local IP law firms or consultants familiar with the Chinese IP landscape. These professionals can guide foreign entities through registration, ensuring timely and accurate filings.

Q8. Are there any treaties that facilitate foreign software copyright protection in China?

Answer: Yes, China is a participant in several international IP conventions and treaties, such as the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works. These treaties ensure that foreign copyrights are acknowledged and protected under Chinese law.

Q9. In case of infringement, can the copyright holder seek damages?

Answer: Yes, holding a software copyright certificate can strengthen the holder’s position in legal disputes. This can expedite court proceedings and potentially lead to higher damages awarded against the infringer.

Q10. What happens if two parties file for copyright registration for the same software simultaneously?

Answer: In such rare cases, the NCAC will review the applications thoroughly. The details of development, evidence of originality, and any other pertinent documentation will play a crucial role in determining which party receives the certification.


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