Because of this blog, our China lawyers get a fairly steady stream of China law questions from readers, mostly via emails but occasionally via blog comments as well. If we were to conduct research on all the questions we get asked and then comprehensively answer them, we would become overwhelmed. So what we usually do is provide a super fast general answer and, when it is easy to do so, a link or two to a blog post that may provide some additional guidance. We figure we might as well post some of these on here as well. On Fridays, like today.
Our China attorneys are often asked by our clients whether they need a Chinese name for China. Our answer to that question is an emphatic yes if the company plans to conduct business in China within the next few years. In Don’t Be Like Mike: Register Trademarks In CHINESE, our lead China IP lawyer, Mathew Dresden, explained why:
Protect your Chinese brand, even if you don’t even have one yet. Because the minute your English-language brand gets attention in China, it will be given a Chinese name by the local media and consumers. Without exception. And the minute that happens, someone will register the Chinese name as a trademark, and you’ll have lost all control of your brand in China.
* * * *
How do you control a name that you don’t come up with yourself? In China, it’s not even a rhetorical question: you can’t, unless you’re also the first to file a trademark application. And so someone else registered the Chinese version of Michael Jordan’s name as their company name and a trademark, and Jordan has been playing catch-up ever since. And losing.
This is also exactly what happened to Pfizer, which released the drug Viagra in America before they had chosen a Chinese name for it, only to find that a Chinese name had been selected for it, popularized, and registered by a third party. Pfizer’s subsequent attempt to re-brand Viagra from the name it was already called in China (伟哥, or “Weige”) to its preferred choice (万艾可, or “Wan’aike”) was doomed from the start, as evidenced by a series of expensive court cases that Pfizer kept losing.
And – stop me if you’ve heard this before – the same thing happened (and keeps happening) with French winemaking giant Castel Frères, which saw someone else register the popularized Chinese version of its name (卡斯特, or “Kasite”) and has been losing court battles ever since in an attempt to regain “its” trademark. And again with Australian winemaker Penfolds and the Chinese version of its name (奔福, or “Benfu”).
It is not enough to register your English-language brand. If you are going to be selling your product or your service in China, you also need to select a Chinese name and register that name as a trademark in China.
Oftentimes when we tell our clients of the need for them to choose and register the trademark for a Chinese name, they ask us if we can help them come up with that name, seeing as how so many of our attorneys are fully fluent in Mandarin. Our answer to that is no, simply because we are lawyers not branding consultants. We have the language capability to make a Chinese brand name does not insult anyone, but we no expertise in coming up with a strong and marketable name. For a brand that “pops” you need a branding expert.
I was reminded of that this week when I read on Labbrand’s website how Labbrand came up with a name for a new Nestle ice cream product. Labbrand is an international branding consultancy that does a substantial amount of branding work for foreign companies that are doing business in China. Labbrand explains its branding work for Nestle as follows:
Labbrand, a leading China-originated global brand consultancy, worked closely with Nestlé to create the Chinese brand name 呈真 [chéng zhēn] for its new ice cream product. 呈 [chéng] means “deliver” or “present”, while 真[zhēn] is used to emphasize the “realness” of something. Together, the name 呈真 [chéng zhēn] can be translated as “deliver the true essence”, and effectively conveys the brand truth: real source and real taste made with real love. It also has an identical pronunciation to 成真 [chéng zhēn], reminding consumers of the beautiful feeling of one’s dreams coming true.
“We aim to help the client connect with the Chinese consumers with an appealing name in this dynamic ice cream market. In my view, nothing embodies the feeling of ‘reality’ better than the moment when you experience a dream come true. 呈真 [chéng zhēn] will deliver the most authentic taste to you and help you experience the wonderful feeling it brings.” states Senior Naming Consultant, Melissa Zhang.
Nothing against lawyers, but I don’t know any who could have done this, in any language.
We will be discussing the practical aspects of Chinese law and how it impacts business there. We will be telling you what works and what does not and what you as a businessperson can do to use the law to your advantage. Our aim is to assist businesses already in China or planning to go into China, not to break new ground in legal theory or policy.