Understanding Patent Protection for SMEs in the Chinese Market


In the complex international commerce arena, patent protection is an indispensable bulwark for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs). This holds particularly true when venturing into dynamic markets like China, where a nuanced understanding of the local intellectual property rights framework is crucial.

Recognizing the various types of patents, the role of customs, and the importance of contracts become paramount for SMEs planning their market entry.


The Trio of Patent Types in China

China classifies patents into three categories – invention, utility model, and design patents. Each serves to safeguard distinct elements of an innovative product or process.

  1. Invention Patents: These focus on securing new technical solutions related to a product or process. Invention patents, with their 20-year validity from the date of filing, offer robust protection for cutting-edge technological innovations.
  2. Utility Model Patents: This patent category defends new technical solutions concerning a product’s shape, structure, or combination. It offers a ten-year shield from the filing date, primarily guarding the functional design aspects of a product.
  3. Design Patents: With an emphasis on aesthetic aspects, design patents protect new designs related to a product’s shape, pattern, color, or combination. The protection, valid for 15 years from the filing date, helps SMEs keep their products distinct in consumer goods markets.


The Indispensable Role of Chinese Customs and Contracts

Beyond patent applications, two additional strategies significantly bolster patent protection in China – registering with Chinese customs and crafting comprehensive contracts for manufacturing entities within China. Registering patents with Chinese customs empowers them to detain shipments of products infringing on the registered patents. This step curtails the distribution of counterfeit goods effectively.

Contracts, particularly with manufacturers in China, are another potent tool in an SME’s intellectual property arsenal. These contracts should underline the importance of patent and intellectual property protection, complying with Chinese law, and be written in Chinese. Additionally, it’s advisable to state that the Chinese court is the governing law to facilitate smoother legal proceedings in case of disputes.


Addressing the Challenge of Counterfeits on Online Platforms

A persistent challenge in China’s digital retail ecosystem, particularly on platforms like Taobao, Tmall, JD, etc., is the problem of counterfeit goods. SMEs must actively monitor these platforms for potential infringements of their patents. Timely legal action against counterfeiters can significantly protect an SME’s market share and brand reputation.



Successfully navigating the Chinese market calls for a strategic blend of understanding patent types, leveraging Chinese customs, utilizing legally sound contracts, and actively mitigating online counterfeiting. These steps will ensure that SMEs’ innovative prowess gets the protection it deserves in this bustling market, paving the way for a secure and prosperous business journey.



1. What are the types of patents available in China? Patents in China are classified into three types: invention patents, utility model patents, and design patents. Each patent type protects different aspects of innovation, and their validity periods vary.

2. How can SMEs protect their products from counterfeit goods on online platforms like Taobao, Tmall, JD, etc.? SMEs can protect their products by ensuring robust patent protection and actively monitoring these platforms for potential patent infringements. Timely legal actions against counterfeiters can protect the SME’s market share and brand reputation.

3. Why is it important to register patents with Chinese customs? Registering patents with Chinese customs provides an extra layer of protection. The customs officials can hold shipments of products that infringe the registered patents, effectively preventing the distribution of counterfeit goods.

4. Why should contracts with manufacturers in China be adapted to Chinese law and be written in Chinese? Contracts should align with Chinese law and be written in Chinese to ensure mutual understanding and ensure enforcement in China. This helps avoid potential disputes and ensures smoother legal proceedings if disputes arise. It is also important to notice that foreign court judgments are often not enforced in China.

5. What role do contracts play in patent and intellectual property protection in China? Contracts with manufacturers in China should explicitly emphasize the importance of patent and intellectual property protection. These legally binding agreements safeguard SMEs’ innovations and help protect their interests in case of violations.

6. What are the validity periods for different patents in China? In China, invention patents are valid for 20 years, utility model patents for 10 years, and design patents for 15 years from the filing date. To maintain these patents, annual fees are required.



Contact us if you need legal help in China, like drafting contracts that follow Chinese law, background investigation of Chinese companies, protecting patents, trademarks, and verification of contracts to the law 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 janerik@ncbhub.com. 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 janerik@ncbhub.com  or Milla Chen, at huimin.chen@ncbhub.com. We look forward to hearing from you and helping your business succeed in China.