Why Grayscale Trademarks are More Favorable than Color Trademarks: China’s Five-Year Certification Rule in Perspective

The trademark registration process is a strategic and pivotal decision that can significantly impact a brand’s protection. Traditionally, companies may opt to register their trademarks in color, given the appeal and potential marketability. However, there are compelling reasons to reconsider this approach, particularly when considering China’s stringent five-year certification rule.

Before delving into this topic, it is important to remind ourselves what a trademark is – a unique word, symbol, or design that identifies and differentiates the goods or services of one entity from another. Trademarks can even encompass specific colors or color combinations, provided they’re non-functional and distinctive.


The Drawbacks of Color Trademarks

While color trademarks may seem attractive due to their visual appeal and potential connection to a brand’s identity, their inherent limitations have made them less desirable in recent times. Primarily, color trademarks are restricted to the exact color or very similar shades. This narrow scope of protection can prove disadvantageous, especially in industries where colors are functional, or differentiation is minimal.

In the context of the Chinese market, a critical consideration is China’s requirement for evidence of use for registered trademarks within five years. This rule implies that, for color trademarks, businesses must consistently utilize the specific color across different platforms and mediums. The process can be cumbersome, particularly for companies that often change their marketing aesthetics or wish to rebrand.


Grayscale Trademarks: The Preferred Choice

In contrast to the restrictive nature of color trademarks, registering a trademark in grayscale (black and white) provides extensive protection. This type of registration shields all color variations of your trademark, granting you the flexibility to alter the color palette while still preserving your legal defense against potential infringements.

This extensive protection becomes particularly advantageous in the face of China’s five-year certification rule. Since grayscale trademarks cover all color variations, businesses have the flexibility to modify their marketing aesthetics without worrying about maintaining the use of a specific color. This starkly contrasts color trademarks, which are locked into their respective hues.

Moreover, grayscale trademarks can offer more robust protection against potential infringers who may attempt to avoid legal issues by merely altering the color of a logo or design. This makes grayscale trademarks an invaluable asset in defending a brand’s intellectual property.


The Ultimate Choice: Grayscale over Color

In light of these considerations, it is clear that grayscale trademarks, with their broad coverage and flexibility, are a superior choice over their color counterparts. They cater to the evolving dynamics of business marketing and branding and stand strong in the face of legal requirements, such as China’s five-year certification rule.

While the allure of color trademarks can be tempting, their limitations make them a less practical choice. Brands seeking a strategic approach to their trademark registration, especially in markets with stringent certification requirements like China, would be well-advised to consider grayscale trademarks. It’s a choice that delivers broader protection, flexibility, and long-term advantage in the ever-changing business landscape.




What is a color trademark?

A color trademark is a specific color or combination of colors that have been registered as a trademark due to its distinct association with a particular brand or product. This trademark protects the use of that specific color or color combination in relation to the specific goods or services.


What is a grayscale trademark?

A grayscale trademark is a black-and-white representation of a logo, symbol, or design registered as a trademark. This type of trademark extends protection to all color variations of the design, making it more flexible than a color trademark.


Why is a grayscale trademark more advantageous in terms of China’s five-year certification rule?

Grayscale trademarks offer more flexibility to alter the color palette while maintaining trademark protection. This is a significant advantage considering China’s five-year certification rule, which requires evidence of consistent use of the registered trademark. Businesses can change their marketing aesthetics without worrying about maintaining the use of a specific color.


What is China’s five-year certification rule?

China requires proof of use of a registered trademark within five years of registration. If the trademark is not used during this period, or evidence of its use is not provided, the trademark may be subject to cancellation.


Can color trademarks offer strong protection?

Yes, in some cases, color trademarks can offer strong protection, particularly when the color has a strong association with the brand in the minds of consumers. However, it is harder to establish this association, and the protection is limited to that specific color.


How can I decide whether to register a grayscale or color trademark?

The choice between grayscale and color trademarks depends on your business needs, brand strategy, and market dynamics. It’s advisable to consult with a trademark attorney who can provide tailored advice based on these factors.



Contact us if you need help with background investigation of Chinese companies, protection of patents in China and internationally, protection of trademarks, verification or drafting of contracts that follow the law in China and are enforceable in China, or help with other legal challenges 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 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 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 janerik@ncbhub.com . 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.