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Chinese characters to be recognized for global trademarks

Updated: Mar 11,2015 9:17 AM     China Daily

The World Intellectual Property Organization is changing its trademark registration system to accept Chinese and Japanese characters as international trademarks.

Francis Garry, director general of WIPO, recently told Japan’s The Nikkei newspaper that the agency will work on reforms over the next five years, and changes to the system will be approved as early as this autumn.

The organization has 188 member states. Asian and Middle Eastern members have expressed support for a proposal to permit trademarks in some scripts other than the Roman alphabet, including Chinese characters and Japanese kanji characters or hiragana lettering, the newspaper reported.

Trademarks not in the Roman alphabet cannot be registered as international trademarks to enjoy global protection, according to current WIPO rules.

Countries using other scripts, such as China, Japan and Arabian countries in the Middle East, allow trademarks in their respective scripts to be registered within the country. But brands and other international trademarks must use the Roman alphabet.

The director general said the reform was “in conjunction with the rise of Asian economies”.

Zhao Hu, an intellectual property rights lawyer and a partner in Beijing’s EastBright Law Firm, agreed. He told China Daily that the change indicates the emerging roles of Asia-Pacific countries, especially China and Japan, in the economic and technical fields.

“Technically, a trademark needs to be prominent and easily distinguishable,” he said. “Allowing Chinese and Japanese characters to become international trademarks means their prominence and identity are recognized in the global business domain.”

He said the reform would be good news for Chinese companies.

“When a Chinese company plans to expand overseas, it wants to use its old trademark as it represents fame and reputation,” Zhao said. “If it has to abandon its Chinese trademark and register a new one, the time-honored reputation will not go with it, and there will be challenges in translation.

“In addition, trademark squatting will be avoided thanks to the new system,” he said.

Famous traditional Chinese medicine trademark Tong Ren Tang has been preempted in Japan, South Korea, the United States and Europe since the 1980s.

Japanese retailer Ryohin Keikaku found in 1999 that the characters for its Muji brand had already been registered in China by a Hong Kong company, and spent seven years to win the name back.